A 16-year-old, pregnant girl found herself homeless in Denver. After seeing the number on a poster at Denver Human Services, she called 211 Colorado. The 211 resource navigator who answered the phone realized the girl needed more than just food assistance. She asked a few questions, then connected the girl to a shelter and to transitional housing for pregnant women. And she set up a time to call the girl back to help her apply for food benefits, provided additional resources for clothing and basic needs for her and the baby, and more.
211 is America’s most comprehensive source of information about local resources and services. The 211 network fields some 50,000 calls like this a day -- averaging 21 million requests for help every year, including 1.7M in Spanish. These requests aren’t answered by technology, but by 2,000+ real people who are part of the 211 network. In a disaster, personal crisis, or daily challenge, these trained specialists connect people to available resources for finding food, paying housing bills and connecting to other essential services.
On Saturday Feb. 11, 211s all over the U.S. and Canada are celebrating 211 Day by lifting up the work they do in communities. As Dana Catapano, a lead database resource specialist at NJ 211, puts it: "(People) are always seeking help, you know mom to mom, and I love that I can provide that extra layer with community resources that are available, most that they didn't even know about!"
211 is a 24/7 go-to resource that connects millions with locally available help. Expert, caring call center operators are supporting 99% of the U.S. population and all of Canada. It’s free, confidential and available in more than 180 languages. The website, 211.org, now in English and Spanish, has many resources for people to find help or a 211 in their community. Through 211, people can access free and confidential crisis and emergency counseling, disaster assistance, food, health care and insurance assistance, stable housing and utilities payment assistance, employment services, veteran services and childcare and family services.
And the people who answer the calls take their jobs seriously. “Each day I wake up, I tell myself, ‘There’s someone out there who needs you,’“ says Carla Brimmer, community resource specialist at Nebraska 211, United Way of the Midlands. “The people that I talk with each day are truly wonderful people who have just fallen on hard times.”
A 59-year-old man called United Way 211 Greater Cleveland for help with food. As they talked, the trained call center operator realized he had more challenges. He was living in an unfurnished apartment—with only a chair, blanket and single can of soup—and struggled to get around because of spinal cord injuries. Instead of making him navigate complex intake processes at multiple agencies (he lacked pen or paper), the 211 specialist made a few calls on his behalf. That day he got food, but also someone came to check on him, and he got a case manager who’s helping him resolve longer-term issues. Still, the 211 call specialist periodically checks back in with him to make sure he’s getting the help he needs.
"With every call I get, I try to put myself in their shoes,” says LaKeta Yearby, a community connection specialist at United Way of Greater Atlanta 211. “It's easy for me to do that and get into that mind frame because whatever it is that someone is going to call with, I've likely dealt with in some way."
211 is operated and funded, in part, by local United Ways. It’s part of United Way’s work to build strong, resilient, and equitable communities where everyone can thrive. By connecting people in need with the best resources available to them, 211 helps make the social services ecosystem more efficient and effective, and helps local resources go further.
If anyone you know needs help, please encourage them to call 2-1-1, or visit 211.org.