When someone is experiencing a crisis, whether it’s loss of housing due to a storm or a drug addiction, they require immediate assistance.
But, according to Danielle Bush, director of community and volunteer engagement for the United Way of Bucks County, it usually takes an individual six calls before they are connected with the right resource to match their need.
In Bush’s opinion, this is completely unacceptable.
Recently, the United Way of Bucks County took a major step in providing residents with a shortcut through what can be a bewildering maze of health and human service agencies.
The organization invested in 2-1-1, a free, 24/7 phone number that connects callers to resources to help with food insecurity, financial problems, housing and utility issues, childcare, mental health issues, drug use, employment, transportation problems, disaster relief, legal aid and more.
“It’s a needed service. We hear all the time from folks who are calling into our office, ‘We have no idea where to call.’ Those who are in crisis are not thinking about where they’re supposed to call,” Bush said. “2-1-1 is a 24-hour a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, multilingual information and referral helpline for health and human services. It also has the ability to text and chat.”
When someone calls 2-1-1, a resource navigator answers. The caller is asked a series of questions such as if they have children, are a veteran, etc., which Bush said helps determine which services they may quality for. They’re also asked for their location and to describe their need. The resource navigator then matches their ZIP code to organizations through a taxonomy code in order to provide the best service to geographically meet their need.
Examples of referrals offered by 2-1-1 include the following: basic human needs resources such as food and clothing banks, shelters and rent assistance; physical and mental health resources such as health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare, crisis intervention services, support groups, counseling and drug and alcohol intervention and rehabilitation; work support such as financial assistance and job training; support for older Americans and persons with disabilities, such as adult day care and home health care; and children, youth and family support, such as after-school programs, education programs for low-income families, summer camps, tutoring and protective services.
Bush stressed that the individuals answering the 2-1-1 line aren’t part of a typical call center.
“The resource navigators are highly-trained and experienced in crisis management. They’re experienced in suicide prevention, things like that. And they have casework backgrounds. So they are highly-trained in the health and human service arena,” she said. “They’ve had a turnover of one in the past year. They care about what they do.”
At the end of the conversation, the resource navigator asks the caller if they’d like to receive a follow-up. During this call, the navigator finds out if the 2-1-1 resource was valid and met their need. If not, the situation is reassessed and additional resources are provided.
According to Bush, 2-1-1 has been an active service in the community and state for some time – it’s just been dormant. Currently, it covers 93 percent of the United States population and 97 percent of Pennsylvania, though this is expected to increase to 100 percent by the end of the year.
Since 2-1-1 isn’t exclusive to Bucks County, with residents’ calls directed to a team of resource navigators in Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, the United Way of Bucks County invested in two local staff members, including Bush, to update, edit and populate the 2-1-1 database for the area.
For Bush, it was important to have someone who was born and raised in Bucks County enter this vital data, rather than an outsider who’s unfamiliar with the county’s agencies and organizations.
As 2-1-1 gains traction in Bucks County, Bush said she anticipates it helping more than 1,000 locals each year.
“This is kind of new. We want to be able to assist as many people who need the services as possible. This is a service that we’re proud of, that we believe in, that we can’t wait for Bucks County residents to utilize,” she said. “Right now we’re starting small. We’re getting our feet wet with it and then we’ll see what happens from there.”
2-1-1 can be accessed by calling that number, texting 898-211, or visiting 211sepa.org, where a chat feature is available. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org