211, the non-emergency alternative to 911

Not everyone who calls 911 needs a firefighter or police officer. A second system exists to help people who need human and social services: 211. The modern 211 system started in Washington in 2006. Calls climbed as the economy sank. Some say the service is underused by many it could benefit.

The 211 system is a centralized call center for people who need help or have emergencies that don’t involve immediate danger.

In 2011, the center received 44,687 calls from people in Snohomish County. Callers sought help with more than 50,000 matters.

One in five callers needed a phone number or address. Other common concerns were home heating assistance, housing and shelter, and mental health.

211 exists to connect people directly to appropriate human-service agencies. That saves them multiple calls and trips, and reduces misdirected requests to 911 and other agencies, said Bob Reese, regional vice president of Volunteers of America, which operates 211 in northwest Washington.

Funding sources include regional United Way chapters, and local, state and federal governments.

The 211 system also is useful after natural disasters such as floods, landslides and winter storms, said John Pennington, Snohomish County emergency management director. It can help people access state and federal disaster relief.

About 4,300 needs raised during 211 calls were unmet in 2011. That means 211 wasn’t able to provide an appropriate referral.

211 calls by Snohomish County ZIP code

ZIP code 211 calls in 2011
98201 6,921
98204 4,619
98203 3,454
98208 2,948
98270 2,769
98036 2,152
98223 1,777
98037 1,635
98258 1,582
98087 1,507
98026 1,370
98012 1,236
98271 1,202
98290 1,137
98043 1,044
98272 931
98292 550
98252 513
98294 448
98275 438
98021 411
98020 345
98251 321
98011 284
98296 280
98072 166
98205 101
98241 84
98077 40
98256 31
98046 26
98207 17
98293 16
98291 12
98082 10
98213 9
98259 4
98287 3
98041 0
98282 0

211 calls in 2011 by subject matter

BANKRUPTCY 59
COMMUNITY ISSUES 6,198
Adoption/foster care 9
Death/dying/bereavement 1
Runaway/missing person 1
Community voice mail assistance 15
Shower facilities 18
Wildlife/domestic animals 122
Crime and violence 35
Parks and recreation 35
Workshop/self-help classes 109
Other 5,853
CHILD CARE 329
CREDIT/DEBT MANAGEMENT 71
DISASTER 129
Earthquake 1
Emergency preparedness 110
Fire 12
Flood 6
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE 307
DONATIONS 438
EDUCATION 169
EMERGENCY SHELTER 3,821
EMPLOYMENT 184
FOOD/FOOD BANK 1,469
TAX PREPARATION/EITC 746
GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE 399
Child care subsidies/grants 10
Food stamps/Quest card 190
Low-cost medical insurance requests 13
Medicaid/medical coupons 85
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families/Workfirst 46
WIC 24
Other 31
HOLIDAY FOOD OR GIFTS 1,135
HOUSEHOLD, CLOTHING, PERSONAL GOODS 1,825
Child car seats 138
Clothing 957
Furnishings/appliances 590
Personal goods 140
HOUSING/LOW-COST HOUSING 2,489
LEGAL 2,411
Civil rights 41
Child support and child custody 259
Divorce/separation 202
Legal representation/information 1,806
Mediation/arbitration/conciliation 103
LICENSING/PERMITS 127
Birth certificate 24
Death certificate 2
Drivers license 19
Marriage license 5
Passport 7
Social Security card 9
Food handler permits 10
Other 51
MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH 1,774
Anger management 52
Counseling request 920
Eating disorders 3
Mental illness diagnosis/treatment 613
Sexual problem 4
Suicide 19
Support group request 163
MORTGAGE FORECLOSURE 145
PARENTING 91
PHYSICAL HEALTH, DENTAL 673
PHYSICAL HEALTH, GENERAL 1,224
AIDS information/services 16
Assistive technology for people with disabilities 115
Disability/disease 40
Environmental/health 9
Eye care and glasses 226
Family planning 76
Immunizations 15
Pregnancy-related services 24
Prevention 53
Medical treatment 650
PROGRAM CUTS 128
PUBLIC SAFETY 11
RENT/MORTGAGE/MOVING ASSISTANCE 5,455
REQUEST FOR ADDRESS OR TELEPHONE 12,574
SCHOOL SUPPLIES 173
SENIOR/DISABLED CARE 206
SOCIAL INSURANCE PROGRAMS 147
Basic Health 64
Labor &Industries 2
Medicare 7
Social Security Disability Insurance 40
Supplemental Security Income 14
Unemployment compensation 18
Veteran benefits 2
DRUG/ALCOHOL ABUSE 423
TAX ISSUES 78
TEMPORARY FINANCIAL AID 967
Automotive 154
Cash 338
Death-related expenses 24
Education/vocational tuition 32
Medical expense 77
Prescription medications 342
TRANSITIONAL HOUSING 1,158
TRANSPORTATION/TRAVEL 1,144
Education transportation 8
Employment transportation 47
General transportation 702
Medical transportation 270
Other transportation 35
Out of state transportation 82
UTILITIES 6,632
Home heating assistance 5,670
Telephone/cable/water/trash 962
MISCELLANEOUS OTHER 228
TOTAL MET NEEDS 55,537

Some calls involved multiple subjects.

SOURCE: Volunteers of America

How to help

Volunteers of America accepts donations to help run 211 and other social services. For more information about donating, contact William Raihl at Wraihl@voaww.org or 425-609-2209.

More about 211

Volunteers of America: www.voa.org

211 website: www.win211.org

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