Everyone knows to dial 911 for emergencies. But, what about 211?
By calling 211, Douglas County residents can be connected to services and programs on everything from legal services and counseling to job training, education programs, and child or adult day care.
211 works a bit like 911. Calls to 211 are routed by the telephone company to a local or regional calling center. In Douglas County, calls are routed through United Way of the Plains in Wichita that maintains listings of programs in Douglas County and 98 other Kansas counties. The 211 center’s referral specialists receive requests from callers, match the callers’ needs to available resources from nonprofit and government health and human service agencies, and refer them directly to an agency or organization that can help. United Way 211 of Kansas is free, confidential and answered 24/7. Translation services are also available.
“Our dedicated call specialists are trained to listen carefully to the problem and point the caller toward the help needed,” said President & CEO Patrick J. Hanrahan, United Way of the Plains. “Whether it’s a need unique to you or part of a regional disaster, our 211 service is ready every day of the year.”
Douglas County Emergency Management utilized 211 after the May 28 tornado and Aug. 1 flood event. Residents were encouraged to call 211 if they needed assistance or if they wanted to donate or volunteer services. Emergency Management staff and volunteers then used the calling center’s database to match residents’ needs with available assistance.
“It was a huge asset for us because there were a lot of people who needed help and wanted to help and that was one place we could send everybody,” said Emergency Management Deputy Director Jillian Rodrigue.
Rodrigue added that residents also could call 211 if they had questions about items such as debris removal or insurance assistance. With limited staff, it was helpful to have 211 available because callers didn’t have to leave a message. “With 211, there was someone there 24/7 ready to help answer those questions, so it really worked out well for us,” she said.
Rodrigue said they used 211 to help about 100 Douglas County residents who needed assistance after the natural disasters. One family sent a thank-you note after being connected through 211 to the Great Plains United Methodist Conference. The nonprofit agency was able to provide the family with grant funding. “Thank you and your team for giving my family, all three generations, a valuable lesson and experience,” they wrote. “We are forever grateful.”
In 2019, there were 1,147 requests for help through 2-1-1 in Douglas County and of those, 1,029 were connected with resources and their needs were met. The top requests were for: utility assistance, disaster recovery services and volunteer opportunities. President & CEO Jeffrey Cornish, United Way of Douglas County, said 2019 was not a typical year due to the tornado and flooding. Typically, he said, the top requests are for: utility assistance, rent payment assistance, homeless shelter and food pantries.
The Douglas County Human Services Coalition reviews the 2-1-1 list to see how they can work on providing services for the needs that are unmet. The top unmet needs in 2019 were for utility assistance, homeless shelter and transportation.
Besides dialing 211 for resources, Douglas County residents can also text their ZIP code to 898-211 or click on Douglas.MyResourceConnection.org.