The other night, I had a conversation with someone very close to me. She was sharing that her daughter had called in distress because her husband was talking suicide.
“Hang up and call 211 and get some help!” this person advised (she herself works for the Superior Court system and knows things). Here is a service I knew about some time ago, but it had fallen off my radar.
For those of you who don’t know, dialing 211 will not take you to emergency services (even though suicidal thoughts are certainly an emergency) but rather to trained personnel who will put you in touch with providers and even help arrange services for you. If one is in need of health or human services such as counseling, transportation or job training or disaster-related information, be it from natural or manmade causes, they can be of assistance.
San Luis Obispo County was blessed with 24-hour referral and support services for those in need when HOTLINE incorporated in 1970. They trained volunteers to listen and direct folks seven days a week, 365 days a year. (I remember when K-Otter put together a team for a Bowl-a-Thon to raise money for them!)
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Sadly, as with most badly needed things in life, it cost money and for lack thereof, they had to shut down in 2009.
They had, however, implemented 211 in 2007. This was after the Federal Communications Commission in 2000 made a unanimous decision that “assigning an N11 code for such purposes is in the national interest.” (There will be a test at the end about all these numbers.) But HOTLINE couldn’t do it alone. In stepped United Way of SLO County and Transitions-Mental Health Association to carry on.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Rachel Cementina, who grew up in the area and is now the Community Engagement Director at United Way. One of her duties is to oversee 211. She told me they answer nearly 5,000 calls a year, with the majority of those calls being for mental health, addiction or housing issues.
“One percent is from Cambria, and aside from the county norm, you also contact us for senior resources,” she noted. She also mentioned not all callers identify themselves with a ZIP code, so some areas could actually be using the service more. She assured me that all calls are confidential!
I asked Rachel whether they still volunteered like they did for HOTLINE.
“As we are part of the National 211 service, we are governed by the rules of the Alliance for Information and Referral Systems. That means every call specialist is trained and certified, so they are also paid. We have bilingual help as well. I know part of the training is how to remain calm given that much of what they will be dealing with is quite emotional.”
Not only are 211 services in SLO County supported by United Way, but also with help from PG&E, First 5 of SLO County, the cities of SLO, Pismo Beach, Paso Robles and SLO County. Think of your donations to United Way helping your neighbors! And that means neighbors of all ages, cultural backgrounds or income levels.
Calling 211 or Transitions can’t guarantee a happy ending, but, more often than not, things do end well. Sometimes, it helps just to know someone is there.
By the way, the young man I mentioned at the beginning did call 211 and was calmed and directed to counseling the very next morning.
Isn’t it nice to know something works in this world?
Numbers to know
- 911 — By all means, call 911 if someone has already taken drastic measures against his or her life or is violent in any way!
- 1-800-783-0607 — Transitions provides more in-depth crisis and support for those with immediate needs: 1-800-783-0607.
For more information on 211 see: