211 a resource for anyone who needs help | News
When someone is in need, Andy Ulrich, chief executive of United Way of Wexford-Missaukee Counties, wants residents of the two counties he serves to know that help is just a phone call away.
For more than 10 years, 211 has been a part of the social services landscape in Wexford and Missaukee counties, but for those unfamiliar with it, Ulrich said they should know three things: It’s easy to use . It’s free. It’s confidential.
The 211 line is a community access line similar to a 911 system. Instead of emergency assistance, however, a 211 line helps connect people to the health and social services they need. need. In 2009, the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class brought the line to County Wexford as part of its annual community service project.
The line connects residents to community resources in times of daily need or an unforeseen crisis. Calls are always confidential and residents will receive help from certified specialists. The service is free.
The 211 line is also a resource that can be used during disasters by emergency management and health care personnel to more effectively disseminate emergency relief information.
Areas 211 can help connect people with services that include bill-paying assistance, children and families, community services, crisis services, disaster services, education, people elderly and disabled, employment, financial and tax assistance, food, health care and more.
“It is intended to be used for non-emergency calls that connect people in need with organizations that can help them. Often organizations can help people, but they don’t know who to call or where to go,” Ulrich said.
“Anyone can pick up a phone in Wexford and Missaukee counties, but really anywhere in the state, call 211 and connect with organizations.”
When it comes to who 211 is for, Ulrich said there are some misconceptions. While there’s a misconception that 211 is for low-income people or people who regularly use help from social service organizations, Ulrich said that’s not true.
While these people can and should use 211 if they have an unmet need, Ulrich said 211 is for everyone, regardless of background or socioeconomic status. If you have a need, 211 can help. That was the message he had for County Wexford Board of Commissioners when he made a short presentation at a recent meeting.
Ulrich recounted a particular incident where a woman was recently dumped by her husband. She was a stay-at-home mom and when her husband left her, he also emptied their bank account. Although she had enough food for her children, she had none for herself.
Finding himself in a new situation, Ulrich said he called Centraide to ask for help. That’s when 211 came into play.
“It (211) is really helpful, especially if it’s people trying to access resources for the first time,” he said. “I wanted (the Commissioners) to understand that this is not just for people who normally access social services. If someone is struggling to pay for their heart, needs to access veterans services, or is in a domestic violence situation, we want them to get the help they need right from the start.
Ulrich said much of the work associated with 211 falls into two categories. They include running the call center itself and constantly updating the resource database used when people call for help. Currently, when someone calls 211 from Wexford or Missaukee counties, Ulrich said those calls are answered by a call center in Muskegon. There are seven 211 call centers statewide and local 211 could contract with any of them, but Ulrich said they use the one in Muskegon.
When it comes to keeping the resource database up to date, Ulrich said it’s a major undertaking. He said when the leadership class put all the information together, it was a major undertaking. Now, all nonprofit organizations and agencies depend on 211 as a resource.
“I get calls all the time at Centraide. Someone can’t pay for heating or whatever, they ask, who do I call? Call 211,” he said.
Stacey Gomez is the executive director of the CALL 211 organization and is the organization that operates the call center used by the local 211 program. She said that in the 10 years since service began in Wexford and Missaukee counties, there have been some changes.
She said the technology has become more advanced. At the start of the service, the only way to access 211 was by phone. Now Gomez said people can call, text, email or web chat.
She also said that while 211 is available in both counties, there are still residents who don’t know about it or agencies who don’t use it to help their customers.
“I think what we’ve found is that there’s turnover within the agencies and we tend to lose ground,” she said. “Across the seven counties we serve, there’s work to be done to get the word out.”
As for funding for the program, Ulrich said it did not come from the state but rather from community partners. This includes Cadillac Area Public Schools, Munson Healthcare and United Way. He said United Way helps fund the service because he believes it’s a valuable tool for the community and helps make nonprofits in the area more effective.
He said this kind of support shows how communities in both counties care for each other and support people. To use 211, dial 2-1-1 for most exchanges or 1-877-211-5253. You can also text your postal code to 898211 or email [email protected] Web or chat is also available at www.call-211.org.