211 links callers to helpful sources

Published 10:42 pm Thursday, January 9, 2014

Her husband walked out on her, and suddenly she was the sole provider for their little girl. She didn’t know where to turn. They were on the edge of eviction. She called 211.

His wife got misdiagnosed and something that could have been cured turned into a serious illness. He didn’t know where to go for pro bono legal help. He called 211.

Her elderly mother lost the right to drive, and she needed to get to her appointments fast. She didn’t know how to find transportation. She called 211.

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The young couple needed a high chair for their daughter and they didn’t have the cash. They didn’t know what might help. They called 211.

When a caller dials 211, a real person will answer and start problem-solving.

They listen, they question and they find referrals to help solve whatever troubles they hear, said Marla Browne, director of 211 services for a seven-county region.

Thanks to the work of Polk Fit, Fresh and Friendly (PF3), residents of Polk County have started being aware of this help and referral resource.

“Polk County is the newest of our seven counties, and February will be the six-month anniversary,” Browne said. “PF3 has done a wonderful job to promote 211 and make it available for our county.”

The most popular needs this year have been utility service payment assistance, food pantries, homeless shelters, housing expense assistance, community clinics and home rental listings. The 211 line also connects people to assessment for psychiatric help, food stamps, dental work, rent payment, legal aid, hospitals and Social Security disability insurance.

“When someone calls, we get as much information as we can to make additional referrals,” Browne said. “There’s not an answer to every one of their questions, but we can help brainstorm.”

The referral specialists have social service and psychology backgrounds, and although they do not offer case management services, the accredited center can transfer calls and stay with the caller until help happens, she said. The 211 line serves as a conduit between the caller and any necessary help. They also follow up within three days after making referrals on any crisis calls.

“I like how we actually help people,” said Toni Goethels, a referral specialist. “We connect them with resources and we’re actually making a difference.”

The phone line, sponsored by United Way of North Carolina, also has a website with referrals to 18,000 helpful resources at www.nc211.org. The phone and online services, available all day every day, cost nothing to callers.

“We find the best resources possible to suit needs,” Browne said.