United Way offers 211 human-service hotline

The 211 human services hotline, supported by the United Way, now is covered statewide to serve as a free, confidential source to help connect people with resources they need.

“It’s a human service hotline that operates 24/7,” said Carolyn Hawk, vice president of community impact with Lycoming County United Way. “When you call it, there is actually a live person. They can help with any kind of need that someone calls in for.”

All people have to do to reach it is dial 211.

“Because it’s a national program and now every county in the state of PA, it makes it one stop shop,” said Ronald A. Frick, president of Lycoming County United Way. “It’s the same concept as 911.”

Frick said that although they’ve participated for about 5 years in the 211 program here in Lycoming County, it’s been implemented in every county across the state this year.

“Really within the last 6 months, the last few counties have signed onto the system,” he said. “It hasn’t been well publicized. We haven’t done it ’till every county was on the system.”

Hawk said that it helps with a wide range of needs.

“A lot is utility assistance, like people who had their water shut off,” she said. “It can be as simple as someone trying to find a ride some place, needs housing, child care, it can be anything. The 211 office maintains a database of all the programs of Lycoming County.”

She said it’s the easiest way for people to find out resources.

“It’s a really easy way for people to access services with just one phone call,” she said.

Frick said people are used to calling 911 in emergencies, and they are used to calling 411 to look up phone numbers or addresses. Hoping to make the 211 service as widely known, it is there to help the community find local resources, according to Frick.

Hawk said that it’s important that someone can call any time and reach a person to help with their needs.

“I think the fact that it’s 24 hours … crisis doesn’t just happen 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday,” she said. “The concept of 211 and 24/7, people can call at any time when needs arise. Especially with extreme situations, if someone gets kicked out of their house at 10 p.m., what can they do? There’s only so many services that can help with those things.”

She said that all kinds of topics are in the realm of resources. Calling the hotline will get people in touch with any resource they may need.

“We can help with mental health providers, child abuse, drug and alcohol recovery, energy assistance, homeless services, utilities… People who are in need of care givers, cars, independent living, community shelters, computers for jobs …” Hawk said. “Criminal justice and legal services, if someone needs some work done and can’t afford a law office, or (if they need) a dry cleaning establishment. It covers everything.”

She said at all times, it will be a person who answers the service.

“The fact that it’s real people that are manning these phone calls. It’s pretty incredible what they do,” she said.

Another feature of the hotline is the telephone reassurance program. Hawk said that if her family needed help and she did not live close to them, she would be able to use the telephone reassurance program to set up a telephone call to call her family every day as a reminder to take medications.

“If I can’t be there to do that (myself), there’s a service like this,” she said. “For elderly folks or those who don’t have family around … It’s great.”

“For those of us who are forgetful, folks who are on specific medications, it can be life or death,” Frick said. “In those situations, having someone just to check in with … It’s a huge benefit. It centers around people in the community.”

Frick said that there’s also a texting option available for those who prefer text reminders.

The United Way helps connect the community to services they need, and Frick said donating to the United Way keeps many programs, like the 211 human services hotline, going.

“There’s really no one else in the country that does fundraising and distribution of funds the way we do,” Frick said. “Most people are looking for a one stop shop to support the greatest number of human service programs. We’re focused on the greatest number of needs in the community. … that’s really where most of programs are centered.”