Biz Buzz: Groups seek to keep two call lines open

Two local nonprofit organizations are working to keep the now-split 211 SLO Hotline running locally as two separate entities.

The local groups expect to keep the call services going at least through June 30, they say, and then will look to state and local funding thereafter.

“It was marketed as one effort for so long,” said Barry Johnson, division director of rehabilitation and advocacy programs with Transitions-Mental Health Association, which took over the SLO Hotline component.

“But now we’re trying to parcel those two back out so the community has that knowledge,” he added.

The move comes after the county’s dual non-911 emergency line — 211 SLO Hotline — announced it would close at the end of 2009.

Since then, Transitions has taken over the SLO Hotline portion to help with the mental health calls while United Way of San Luis Obispo County took on the 211 side under a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission.

If the services had folded, callers would have likely been rerouted to police, county departments, hospitals and other service providers.

The help lines are designed to get information and referrals to those uncertain where to call when crisis strikes.

Users range from those seeking low-income resources to distressed people on the verge of suicide.

SLO Hotline had fielded hundreds of thousands of calls in its 40 years before it became reachable by dialing 211 a little more than a year ago, organizers have said.

As well, the 211 service was used 19,573 times in the last year for assistance and crisis help, officials said.

SLO Hotline has about 25 volunteers to field the confidential calls 24 hours a day. More volunteers will be sought in a March recruitment and training session. Transitions also absorbed a coordinator job from SLO Hotline and plans to hire another position for it later this year, Johnson said.

SLO 211 has partnered with Interface, Ventura County’s 211 authority, for its call center, said Rick London, chief executive officer of the county’s United Way. Ventura will answer the 211 calls using San Luis Obispo County referral information. Santa Barbara County’s 211 authority will help maintain the local database.

The 211 movement swept California a few years ago, and most counties in Southern California have one activated.

The money to keep SLO 211 going includes a $20,000 grant from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and a $20,000 match grant from United Way’s board of directors.

The grants will keep it running through June 30. After that, 211 authorities statewide will push for legislation for federal funding to help support 211 services statewide and in San Luis Obispo County.

SLO Hotline will cost Transitions about $100,000 to operate annually, Johnson said.

He hopes to continue funding the service with a grant funded through the California Mental Health Services Act — a 1 percent added tax on income above $1 million approved by voters statewide as Proposition 63 in November 2004 — and the longtime Bowl-A-Thon fundraiser inherited from the former SLO Hotline organization, which runs from late April to May.

211 and slo hotline: what they do

Visit for information.

Help is reachable by dialing 1-800-549-4499. This group is also seeking volunteers to take calls.

Visit for more information.

— Tonya Strickland