Since January 2010, help for San Luis Obispo County residents in need of assistance from area social service agencies has been as close as the telephone by just dialing 211. 2-1-1 SLO County is a free program of United Way of San Luis Obispo County and is a one-stop way to get timely access to health and human services information and referrals 24/7.
Dialing 211 connects the community to a free, confidential, bilingual call center with access to nearly 600 local, low-cost and no-cost programs and support groups. United Way is pleased to be celebrating National 211 Day today.
When an individual or family needs assistance, often multiple types of help are required that can be confusing and overwhelming to navigate. Often, people want to offer their help and find volunteer opportunities or donate gently used items. 211 is useful in these cases as well.
By dialing 211, community members are provided referrals to as many different agencies or services as necessary to ensure their needs are met. When possible, callers are given three referrals for each need they have. Callers in crisis or with immediate mental health needs are transferred to appropriate support lines, where locally trained volunteers and staff are prepared to give more personal help. In this way, local individuals and families are connected with important health and human services, giving them the support they need to be productive and healthy community members.
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As residents throughout San Luis Obispo County continue to work through their own economic struggles, and as decreased government funding appears to be imminent, 2-1-1 SLO County continues to gain rapid relevance.
From 2007 to 2009, call volume to 2-1-1 SLO County increased 57 percent, with requests for basic services also increasing: food by 107 percent, financial assistance by 111 percent, housing by 57 percent and health and medical referrals by 53 percent.
Also during that time, 2-1-1 SLO County experienced a 40 percent increase in callers seeking substance abuse resources and a 200 percent increase in domestic violence calls. More than 15,000 calls have been placed to 211- SLO County in the past two years, with close to 5,000 of these coming from callers in the city of San Luis Obispo.
2-1-1 SLO County helps to support and strengthen the “safety net” programs that provide residents with direct services and helps prevent greater crises from occurring. Because 2-1-1 SLO County is available any time of day or night, calls to this non-emergency number reduce the number of inappropriate calls to 9-1-1 and other public safety offices.
In the past six months, approximately one quarter of the calls received from known zip codes in the county were between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 a.m., indicating the need for 24-hour assistance. Simultaneously, operations at nonprofit and public assistance organizations are streamlined when clients already know what services are offered and their eligibility.
While employees at nonprofit organizations have the expertise to address issues that their agency is designed to face, they often do not have the time or training to assist with needs that are related, but different. 2-1-1 SLO County call specialists have a full range of accurate resources, the training to use them and the time to listen. There is no other service in SLO County that provides this type of information for such a wide segment of the population.
The 2-1-1 SLO County database is available over the phone (by speaking with call specialists) and online in a searchable format at www.unitedwayslo.org/211, a valuable resource for both the public and social service workers.
211 call centers rely entirely on local funding. 2-1-1 SLO County owes its thanks on this year’s 211 Day to several funding partners, namely, the County of San Luis Obispo, PG&E, Interface Children Family Services and First 5 SLO County. Without these partners, thousands of county residents would struggle to find the basic help they need.
United Way of San Luis Obispo County’s 211 service is available for anyone, regardless of age or level of income. Help support your local 211 service. For more information on 2-1-1 SLO County, visit www.unitedwayslo.org/211.
Rick London is the chief executive officer of the United Way of San Luis Obispo County.