Utility assistance makes up 90 percent of calls to 211

A 211 phone number that connects local residents with social services received more than 6,000 calls over a 12-month period, according to the United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley.

The program also received 16,546 website hits and made more than 17,000 referrals to area agencies.

Candace Poole, manager of the program, released the statistics at United Way headquarters on Thursday, which had been designated 211 Day by city councilors in Columbus and Phenix City, as well as Gov. Nathan Deal.

"It's just a convenient day to promote a convenient number," said Poole. "Feb. 11 and 211 kind of just went hand in hand. It's a perfect day to help people remember 211 information referral."

The local United Way launched the 211 UWCV program in November of 2014 to fill a gap that had existed since Contact Chattahoochee Valley stopped providing the 211 service more than seven years ago. The program provides free, 24/7, confidential service to residents of eight counties. By dialing 211 on a cellphone or land line, callers can speak to certified specialists who link them to local resources for food, shelter, counseling, employment, child care and other services.

The counties served through the local program are Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, Stewart, Talbot and Taylor counties in Georgia. Russell County, Ala., is being served by 211 UWCV and 211 Alabama.

The local service operates in partnership with 211 United Way Greater Atlanta, which is considered the national founder and leader in providing 211 services, according to a United Way news release. Calls from the Chattahoochee Valley are directed to a call center in Atlanta, which connects them to a database maintained by the local United Way.

"Ninety percent of the calls that we receive are for utility assistance, followed very closely by housing and food," Poole said. "But we also get great calls on, 'I want to volunteer. I want to give back to my community.' And just recently, since just before Christmas, we seem to be getting a lot of calls for fire victims. So we're able to help people find the services that they need after a di

saster that was completely out of their control."

Poole said 211 Day is an opportunity to make more people aware of the services available, but it's also about recruiting more social service agencies to participate.

"Since last Feb. 11 (2015), we have given out over 8,000 referrals for utility assistance and we only have 10 agencies listed that provide that service," she said. "We know there are more agencies out there. It's just their willingness to be on the list."

Poole said some agencies are afraid they would be overwhelmed with calls if they participate, but they are allowed to list their own eligibility criteria to address that concern.

She warned against people waiting until the last minute to seek help for their situation.

"We have people that call and say, 'They're turning off my power tomorrow,'" she said. "And there's not an agency out there that can do it. There's usually an intake process that has to happen. There's an application. A lot of times, there's a waiting list."

While the 211 service can't solve every problem, it's there to listen to people's concerns and help make their lives easier, she said.

"People don't think of United Way as providing direct services, but through the 211 line, we are providing hope to people," she said. "It might not be in the form of handing someone a payment, or providing a true direct service, but we're giving them something that they need and something that they maybe have lost, and that's hope and faith that there are people out there who want to help them."

To access the 211 UWCV program, dial 211 or 706-405-4775. The service is also available at www.211uwcv.org.

Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.