Mary Ellen Mendl, Director of Vermont 2-1-1 (a program of the United Ways of Vermont) shared this news with us:
As Vermonters continue their slow climb out of the recession, many are finding they need somewhere to turn for help and they are making, often reluctantly, that first call to 2-1-1, the State’s trusted Information and Referral line that connects people to vital social services provided by a range of nonprofit, faith and government services.
On February 11, (2/11) 2-1-1 centers across the nation will celebrate National United Way 2-1-1 Awareness Day to highlight the vital role this service plays in communities across the nation. Currently, over 86% of the U.S. population has access to a 2-1-1 service. Here in Vermont, 2-1-1 is a program of the United Ways of Vermont and is available to all residents via landline, cell phone and at www.vermont211.org.
Who uses 2-1-1? The newly unemployed, underemployed and anxious are responsible for a surge in calls to 2-1-1 in Vermont and around the country. Last year, 2-1-1 Centers around the country handled approximately 14 million calls, representing a 42% increase above 2007. Vermont’s 2-1-1 system has seen call volume increase by 212% over that same five year period.
In 2011 Vermont 2-1-1 responded to nearly 52,000 callers, compared to 16,532 in 2007. The majority of Vermonters dialing 2-1-1 for information and referrals to community resources were seeking help with meeting some very basic needs. The top three needs expressed during 2011 were for utility, housing and food assistance.
So what happens with a 2-1-1 call? A person dials 2-1-1 and the call is answered by a highly trained 2-1-1 Information and Referral Specialist who listens to the caller’s need, searches a comprehensive database of possible human service referrals, and explains how to access those services. In the case of a worker who has been recently laid off or has had hours reduced, the 2-1-1 Specialist may discuss unemployment benefits, job search options, the 3Sqaures food assistance program, food pantries, mortgage or rent help, utility assistance, available counseling services and much more.
At Vermont 2-1-1, for each of these possible referrals, detailed information about services provided, program locations, hours of service, eligibility requirements, and intake processes is continuously being reviewed and updated by 2-1-1 Resource Specialists. The ability to maintain up-to-date information about available resources is especially important during these economic times of when many Vermonters are attempting to access services for the first time and when the availability of assistance from longstanding programs may have been jeopardized by high demand and/or a decrease in funding.
All 2-1-1s across the nation are reporting that calls from these recently unemployed or newly underemployed are more complex, requiring Call Specialists to provide more listening time, more reassurance, and more detailed explanations of services and programs before these callers are ready to navigate each state’s often complicated maze of services.
The year 2011 proved to be one of the most challenging on record for Vermonters. While struggling through these tough economic times our State was hit hard, first by devastating spring floods and then Tropical Storm Irene. Many of our Vermont communities are still recovering from these two catastrophic weather events. Both FEMA and the State of Vermont relied on 2-1-1 during every phase of these disasters. While 911 and emergency responders were dealing with rescues and evacuations, 2-1-1 was connecting affected families with such immediate needs as emergency shelter, food, water, and important disaster relief information.
The Vermont 2-1-1 call center was also connecting eager volunteers and generous donors with appropriate disaster relief organizations. As Vermont enters into the final, and longest lasting, stage of recovery from Tropical Storm Irene, 2-1-1 will continue to help families and communities rebuild by providing vital information and referral to available assistance.
Our Partners: As we, here at Vermont 2-1-1, celebrate our seventh anniversary, we are ever mindful of and thankful for the strong support provided us by partners who recognized early on the benefits that a statewide 2-1-1 service would bring to our citizens. Without the commitment of our Agency of Human Services, the Vermont Department of Health, Vermont Emergency Management, and the United Ways of Vermont, who have all responded to the rapid growth in Vermonters’ reliance on the 2-1-1 system, we would not have been able to sustain the quality of service our callers now expect and well deserve. With 2-1-1 now firmly established as the number to call in Vermont for quality information and referral to community resources in good times and the number to call for vital information during a disaster, we can all be proud of the outcome that our collaborative efforts have produced.
About Us: 211 is an easy-to-remember, toll-free phone number that connects callers with local community services, such as food, shelter, counseling, employment assistance, quality child care and more. During a disaster, 211 provides critical information about evacuation routes, food and shelter, as well as support with finding new jobs and permanent housing during long-term recovery. 211 is confidential and available 24 hours a day in more than 150 languages.
Need help finding help? Dialing 2-1-1 is your first step. Professional Information and Referral Specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist you.