By KAITLYN NAPLES
A collaboration between local United Ways, including the United Way of West Central Connecticut, the state of Connecticut, and other community partners allows for a free contact center that allows individuals to access health and human services that are available in their local area.
This center is 2-1-1, which is actually the number one would dial if he or she needed mental health care, heating assistance, tax organizations and services, financial assistance, legal services, substance abuse services, shelters, information services, and more. 2-1-1 is supported by the state and the state’s United Way’s, and utilizes volunteers for many of the features it offers.
During Fiscal Year 2013 (July 2012 to June 2013) the United Way of West Central Connecticut, which covers Bristol, Plainville, Plymouth/Terryville and Burlington, received a total of 8,537 calls. This totaled to 12,080 requests for services. The number of requests for service is greater than the number of calls, given that one caller may have multiple needs requiring multiple referrals.
“Before 2-1-1, people had a place to call if they needed information, 4-1-1, people had a place to call for an emergency, 9-1-1, people didn’t have a place to call to look for services that might not be readily available to find,” said Colleen Bolingbroke, the United Way’s director of Marketing and Community Relations. She said 2-1-1 will soon be a national number, but Connecticut will keep its workers who know about Connecticut and the area the United Ways serve. “It provides information that wasn’t out there before, but was desperately needed.”
In the last fiscal year, in Bristol alone, total calls equaled 6,248 and total requests for service was 8,742. Bolingbroke said the top five requests from callers were, in order: housing/shelter, utilities/heat, public assistance programs, outpatient mental health care, and financial assistance.
In the next town over in Plainville, 1,314 calls were made to 2-1-1, and there were 1,894 requests for service. The top five requests in Plainville were: outpatient mental health care, utilities/heat, public assistance programs, housing/shelter, and financial assistance.
The 2-1-1 feature is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and provides information on a variety of different are and services.
The top “unmet needs” at the United Way of West Central Connecticut in Fiscal Year 2013 were: temporary financial assistance, rental deposit assistance, rent payment assistance, electric service payment assistance, and Christmas baskets. Bolingbroke said these “unmet needs” are services that were not offered through the United Way of West Central Connecticut at that time, but may have been served through another organization.
At the United Way of West Central Connecticut, the top agency referrals for Fiscal Year 2013 were the state’s Department of Social Services, Wheeler Clinic, Bristol Community Organization’s Energy Assistance Program, Saint Vincent DePaul Mission of Bristol, and Operation Fuel.
Bolingbroke said, during a year with a calm winter season, without large snowfall, power outage or other natural disasters, 2-1-1’s busiest time of year is when it gets colder out, when individuals realize they might not have enough money to heat their homes, or might need help with buying Christmas presents for their children, or assistance to put food on the table.
When a natural disaster strikes, like the hurricanes or last year’s October snowstorm, 2-1-1 experiences “huge call volumes.” Bolingbroke added that in the last few years during those disasters, 2-1-1 has served as the statewide call center for individuals.
“2-1-1 is the largest resource guide for when you don’t know where to turn, or when you are looking to volunteer somewhere,” she said, adding that it is a good tool for anyone needing help, or wanting to give.
For information on 2-1-1, visit www.211ct.org, or for immediate assistance, call 2-1-1.