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|
211 calls in 2011 by subject matter
|Community voice mail assistance||15|
|Crime and violence||35|
|Parks and recreation||35|
|Child care subsidies/grants||10|
|Food stamps/Quest card||190|
|Low-cost medical insurance requests||13|
|Temporary Assistance for Needy Families/Workfirst||46|
|HOLIDAY FOOD OR GIFTS||1,135|
|HOUSEHOLD, CLOTHING, PERSONAL GOODS||1,825|
|Child car seats||138|
|Child support and child custody||259|
|Social Security card||9|
|Food handler permits||10|
|MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH||1,774|
|Mental illness diagnosis/treatment||613|
|Support group request||163|
|PHYSICAL HEALTH, DENTAL||673|
|PHYSICAL HEALTH, GENERAL||1,224|
|Assistive technology for people with disabilities||115|
|Eye care and glasses||226|
|REQUEST FOR ADDRESS OR TELEPHONE||12,574|
|SOCIAL INSURANCE PROGRAMS||147|
|Social Security Disability Insurance||40|
|Supplemental Security Income||14|
|TEMPORARY FINANCIAL AID||967|
|Out of state transportation||82|
|Home heating assistance||5,670|
|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