United Way 2-1-1 service offers direct lines for helpWritten by Scott McKimmy | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For families and individuals in economic distress, United Way of Greater Toledo offers a referral service to connect them to more than 800 agencies providing assistance for everything from rent and mortgage payments to food, clothing and prescription medicine.
Known as 2-1-1, the organization’s referral center covers Lucas, Wood and Ottawa counties as part of a national system funded by an act of Congress. With high fuel prices and record unemployment, the number of people reaching out for help is growing, according to Jeanette Hrovatich, United Way director of community outreach services.
“We see just our daily call volume, which used to be about 100 calls, is now averaging 340 calls a day, so that’s really up,” she said. “I’m not seeing a dip in our call volume; I’m not seeing our lobby empty out. Those things just aren’t happening.”
Callers speak with information and referral specialists with backgrounds in fields such as communications and social work. They receive training to assist families in need, handle crisis calls and serve as advocates. Available 24 hours per day, the specialists are answering more calls for help than ever, Hrovatich said, with the volume rising from about 37,000 during the previous fiscal year to about 63,000 between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008.
She noticed an upward trend months ago, when Ohio lifted its annual moratorium on utility shutoffs for nonpayment during the winter. A rising cost of living, coupled with a higher rate of job losses, created an increasingly desperate situation for many families as well as a decrease in contributions to nonprofit organizations nationwide. And it’s not getting any better.
“Once that [moratorium] lifted in spring, a lot of people immediately received shutoff notices, so we have been literally helping thousands of people get connected to fewer resources but with greater need in this community. So it’s been a challenge,” Hrovatich said.
A large percentage of those seeking assistance have never experienced such economic distress, and accepting handouts causes them angst. Often called the “new poor,” they feel uncomfortable providing personal information because of the stigma attached to impoverishment.
Yet, Hrovatich emphasized, 2-1-1 preserves their confidentiality by asking nothing more than what type of assistance they need, either by phone or through United Way’s Web site, where visitors enter their zip code to find nearby agencies willing to help.
“I truly believe that there’s been a shift in our office, where we’re seeing more people who used to have really good jobs, who have lost their jobs and are now having to reach out and ask for help for the first time,” she said. “And the beauty of the 2-1-1 system is it allows you to ask for help for the first time anonymously.”
For more information, dial 2-1-1 or visit www.unitedwaytoledo.org.