Most people will associate 2-1-1 with the number to call during a hurricane to locate a shelter. That remains one of its functions in time of a disaster, but there is much, much more. The United Way of Central Louisiana has worked to make 2-1-1 the number to call for service requests. It is a free, confidential community service whose goal is to connect people in need to a wide range of community services. It functions 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, including holidays. A specialist answers calls from any location and uses a database to try and match needs with services.
Reasons to call 2-1-1 might include: medical and mental health needs, employment support services, pregnancy services, food pantries, disaster recovery needs, utility payment assistance, senior and disabled persons support, domestic violence reporting, and programs for children, youth and families. 2-1-1 can also assist in information requests for phone numbers, addresses and hours of operation. It can communicate directly with aid agencies, de-escalate crisis situations, and provide connections to crisis counselors. Telephone translators assist with non-English speaking clients. Besides calling 2-1-1, you can also text your zip code during business hours to 898-211 to contact them with an information request.
Although many people are unaware of the depth and breadth of 2-1-1 services, the word is getting out. During 2019, there were 1,962 calls to 2-1-1. Of those, 1,354 (or 69%) came from Rapides Parish alone. About a third of these calls came from people 60 and older, reflecting the disproportionate needs of seniors. Homeless inquiries came from 84 individuals and 71 from veterans. Of the total calls for any reason, 1,603 resulted in some sort of referral. Most of those referrals were to the Cenla Community Action Committee (492), the Salvation Army (488), the Food Bank of Central Louisiana (154), Main Street Baptist Church (97), Rapides Council on Aging (96) and the LaSalle Community Action Association (73). These were followed by referrals to the Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition, the Modest Needs Foundation and the Philadelphia Baptist Church (all receiving around 50 referrals). Many other worthy organizations received the rest of the referrals.
Those needs that were met following a 2-1-1 call included: utility assistance (655), housing (605), food (337), clothing and other personal or household items (138), disaster services (129), income assistance (128), health care (111) and many others. While it would be wonderful to fill all needs, community demand still exceeds community resources in the domains of housing (103), utilities (95), transportation (44) and material needs (41) as well as a few other requests.
This remarkable service, 2-1-1, continues to link people in need to those who can help. Currently, the 2-1-1 is funded through the United Way and generous grants from several organizations. In the future, however, stable sources of revenue must be located for long-term sustainability. Parish governments could contribute to maintain this service, which helps unite those in need with those willing and able to assist in an easy and efficient manner. What could be better for any community?