211: Get Connected, Get Help
BY CHRISTINE ROBERE, PRESIDENT AND CEO, UNITED WAY OF THE LAKESHORE
Every day, hundreds of people in Muskegon County struggle to find affordable childcare, access healthcare, buy healthy food, and secure a job that pays the bills and other essential needs. 211 is an unmatched, critical service here to help.
211 is operated and funded, in part, by United Way of the Lakeshore. Ensuring every person has access to this critical resource exemplifies United Way’s fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community. By connecting people in need with the best resources available to them, 211 helps make the social services ecosystem more efficient and effective so resources can go further.
Through 211, clients can access free and confidential crisis and emergency counseling, disaster assistance, food, health care and insurance assistance, stable housing and utilities payment assistance, employment services, veteran services and childcare and family services. No matter the situation, the specialists at 211 listen, identify underlying problems, and connect people in need with community resources and services that improve their lives.
Providing expert, caring help to nearly 95 percent of the U.S. population and much of Canada, 211 is free, accessible 24/7/365, completely confidential and available in more than 180 languages.
What is 211? 211 is a vital service leveraged by millions of people across North America, including Muskegon County. Every day, clients contact 211 to access free and confidential crisis and emergency counseling, disaster assistance, food, health care and insurance assistance, stable housing and utilities payment assistance, employment services, veteran services and childcare and family services.
What Does 211 Do? No matter the situation, the specialists at 211 listen, identify underlying problems, and connect people in need with resources and services in their community that improve their lives. In 2019 alone, 211s in the US answered over 11 million calls and almost 450,000 texts, chats and emails, helping millions of people with life-changing support.
In fact your local 211 office served over 18,700 people across Muskegon, Newaygo, and Oceana Counties.
211 has also played a fundamental part in COVID-19 relief across the state of Michigan. On October 1, MDHHS officially handed over operational responsibility of the State’s COVID-19 Hotline to 211! As part of this transition, 211 will be helping Michigan residents navigate through pandemic-related matters, including addressing general COVID questions and needs, providing COVID test scheduling services and benefits navigation to those struggling to access the internet to apply for benefits on their own.
Since October, Michigan 211’s have connected 351,000 individuals to COVID-19 related services. You can see a dash board of their COVID Response at https://www.mi211.org/coronavirus-disease-2019-what-you-should-know. You can also always find up to date information on help call in your community by going to their state dashboard at https://211counts.org/home/index
Why Does 211 Matter? 211 does more than “patch people through” to agencies. Instead, 211 specialists are trained to identify root causes of a client’s problem – and connect them with a wide range of available resources that meet all the underlying needs, not just the one that prompted the call, text or email. No other program has its “finger on the pulse” of Muskegon’s greatest needs. It’s a vital part of United Way’s efforts to build stronger communities and fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community. 211 makes the social services ecosystem/network more efficient by ensuring people in need are connected to agencies that can help them.
The wonderful staff and volunteers at our local 211 office are lifesavers, and can be a beacon of hope for some of our community members. Read below the story of Maxine!
Maxine started calling 211 about 14 years ago. When she first used the call service she had been in her 50s and had not yet been diagnosed with cancer. Now she is 70, and a cancer survivor!
In the last 14 years, Maxine has called 211 76 different times. She has called for everyone in her family that was in need. She has called for food pantries, transportation, medical expenses, chemo support groups, furniture, and more. A call history of 76 times to the 211 hotline certainly shows how living on a low fixed income can have a lot of gaps. It also shows how much she trusted 211 and its staff.
She shared her struggles for her and her loved ones. She would call to share good news too. When she completed chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free, she called 211 to let them know. The 211 impact team had such a positive impact on Maxine, that last year Maxine met Sara, the 211 Resource Manager, for the first time at a conference. Maxine said she only came to the conference so she could finally meet Sara, give her a hug, and thank her for 211’s support over the last 14 years.
As an agency, 211 is very serious and deliberate about the information and referral profession. It is critical to assess a caller’s needs, screen for services they may be eligible for, and help connect them to help. What is more important to the residents that 211 serves, is the folks on the other end of the phone call, text or chat, is that they listen, they ask questions, and they care.
How You Can Support 211
The number one thing a person can do is to continue to spread and educate to the community about their helpline services. It is important that families that in need of assistance know who they may call to find and be connected to resources. You never know when someone may need help! You can connect by dialing 211 on your phone and be connected to your nearest 211 office based on your zipcode. They also have email and web chat available at https://www.call-211.org/ Help us spread the news about their wonderful work!
Advocate - 211 Bill (HELP Act)
As a result of the amazing advocacy of our United Way network and 211s this year, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced 211 federal legislation for the first time in a decade. It was introduced on Wednesday, December 9, as part of a series of federal bills to address law enforcement personnel violence in communities, particularly affecting those with mental health illnesses and other disabilities.
The bill, the Human Services Emergency Logistics Program (HELP) Act, would direct non-criminal emergency calls from 9-1-1 systems to state and regional 211 systems and connect people in communities with the human services they need. If passed, the bill would provide $350 million for state and regional 211s in the first and second years and $300 million per year for the next four years.
The bill was announced at a virtual press event on Wednesday, December 9 with a police officer, mother and Kevin Ressler, CEO of United Way of Lancaster on Wednesday, December 9. The event was not open to the public, but stay tuned for the recording.
While this is just the first step in a long legislative process, we are pleased that members of Congress see the value of 211 as a mental health resource and human services support. We are grateful for the advocacy of our network who effectively made the case for federal support of 211 through sign-on letters, Hill Days and the Ride United initiative this year.
In particular, thanks to Kristen Rotz and Pete Manzo for their invaluable insight and feedback on the bill. Also, thanks to those of you who shared your contacts at Republican offices earlier this fall. We will be following up with those offices in the coming weeks to ensure we build bipartisan support for the bill. Please stay tuned for future advocacy opportunities to advance this legislation early next year.
If you would like to show your support:
• We ask that you send a message to your local government officials and let them know the importance of the program to our community.
• Thank our local government officials on social media for their continued support and to talk about the HELP Act.
• Let us know if you have relationships with any members of Congress that may support this bill. In particular, we are looking to build support with Republican members who have expressed support for 211 in the past. To indicate any relationships you have, please fill out this form. We will begin outreach to potential bill cosponsors in early 2021 and will reach out to you before contacting members directly!
United Way of the Lakeshore is uniting to inspire change and build thriving communities. Our Bold Goal – 10,000 more working families meet their basic needs by 2025. For more information, contact United Way of the Lakeshore at (231) 722-3134. Learn more about United Way of the Lakeshore at UnitedWayLakeshore.org, like the organization on Facebook and receive up to date information from Twitter at twitter.com/uwlakeshore.