Need help? Dial 2-1-1

Published 12:09 am Saturday, October 18, 2008

Everyone knows how frustrating it is to be in a situation – whether it’s needing help to pay one’s electric bill or in locating someone to perform caregiver services – and to not know where to turn.

Thanks to 211 that help and more is just a phone call away.

David Duke, executive director of the Wiregrass United Way 2-1-1 Southeast Alabama, said the service has just recently become available to residents throughout the southeast – including those in Covington County.

“A lot of people don’t know what 2-1-1 is or what it can do for them,” Duke said. “There’s nothing more frustrating than needing assistance and not knowing where to turn. Well, people can turn to us.”

The call to 211 is free and links callers to the health and human services they need. Dialing 211 contacts the caller to a specialist who can assess their specific needs and link them to the right service or services using a comprehensive database of services from federal, state and local governments to faith-based and nonprofits.

The number gives access to information for these types of services:

Basic human needs like food banks, clothing closets, shelters and rent and utility assistance programs.

Physical and mental health needs like insurance programs, counseling, drug and alcohol intervention and rehabilitation.

Employment support like job training and education programs.

Support for older Americans and the disabled such as activity center meals, transportation, home health and specialized services.

Support for children, youth and families such as child care, after-school programs, family resource centers, mentoring, tutoring and protective services.

“The easiest way to explain it is that 2-1-1 is the 9-1-1 of non-emergencies,” he said. “You have an immediate medical or law enforcement need, you call 9-1-1. For information, you call 2-1-1.”

Duke cited many examples of the benefits of using the helpline.

“We’ve had people call who need help paying their utility bills and we put them in touch with the appropriate agencies,” he said. “We’ve had a girl call who was wanting to go to college and was looking for scholarships. We had one lady who called because she lived in a really rural area and needed someone to be a sitter for her elderly mother.

“We were able to point each of these people in a direction to get the answers to their questions,” he said.

Since its conception in the southeast in June, 1,400 calls have been received at the call center, Duke said.

“What 211 does is cut to the chase for people who need this type of information,” he said. “You can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The program covers seven counties – Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry and Houston counties.

“The great thing about the coverage area is that we can pull from resources from all over the southeast,” he said. “So that means we’re able to tap into programs from all over the state too. Just because our office is in Dothan, doesn’t mean we won’t know who to call for help here in Covington County.”

Duke said the resource and organization database is being constantly updated.

“We’re going to make those calls and do that leg work to find a solution. By doing that we can add that resource to our list, so it’s a win-win for both of us.

“And best of all it’s free,” he said.