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Dial 211 for all non-health related emergency calls

In times of distress, no one needs the added stress of trying to figure out where to seek help.

If the emergency is health-related, 911 is the place to call, but for other emergencies, such as the loss of a job, resulting homelessness or financial help with overwhelming utility bills, 211 is the number to remember.

“The simplest way I describe it to people is if you have a medical emergency and you’re in your home, what’s the first thing you call – it’s 911. If you’re dealing with any other issue, it could be a mental issue, it could be a homelessness issue, it could be food, call 211,” said Ron Frick, president of the Lycoming County United Way.

A call to the 211 number, which is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, will put the caller in touch with a caseworker who will provide them with the telephone numbers of resources specific to their needs.

“The caseworkers are trained to ask the right questions to get to the real root causes of what the issues are,” Frick said. “Someone might call for a food issue, but we might find out that one of the reasons they’re having a food issue is that they’ve lost their job.”

Because 211 is statewide, information on more resources are available – not just those locally. Plus, because of the database maintained by the 211 site, the United Way is able to target where the funding is most needed.

“We can actually see in Lycoming County, based on the number of calls that came in, let’s say in January. How many were specifically for utility assistance, rental assistance, for mental health issues, for the weather, whatever. They (211) can break it down. That helps us out from an impact perspective. Where is the greatest need in the community when it comes to safety net, emergency services,” he said.

“We can justify then, that if the majority of our funding is going to the Rescue Workers that makes sense, because that’s where most of the calls are coming from,” Frick added.

Brittany Fischer, the United Way’s vice president of community impact, explained what happens when someone calls the 211 number.

“When someone calls 211, they are greeted by (someone) like a customer service representative. That person is able to ‘triage’ the issue, based on a series of questions, to determine what form of services they could be able to offer resources for. The goal is that there are three referral resources that a client is to be given,” Fischer said.

“The goal is that they give them the resources they need, so that when they hang up the phone they have those, to be able to give a call to see if they can provide whatever service is necessary,” she added.

She emphasized that the 211 service does not connect the caller with the resources, that is the responsibility of the caller to follow through and seek the help they need.

“After they hang up the phone, the rest of the work is on the caller. The 211 service is not patching you through or dispatching you out, they are giving you the tools. From there you are accountable for the actions that you follow through with,” she said.

“The goal is for people to start there, rather than you being in a situation where you have to figure out, should I call the United Way, should I call the rescue workers, in a desperate situation, where you’re going to get the best service,” Frick said. “If you start there they’ll do all that for you. The first thing we do is ask have you called 211. This is the one stop place to go.”

The 211 service is also available online at PA211 and by texting your zip code to 898211.

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