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2-1-1 provides so many of our neighbors in Central Minnesota with the help they need and it's only a phone call away.

Most people are quite familiar with 9-1-1, an emergency telephone number that connects callers with law enforcement, firefighters, and medical services. Since Canada and the United States use the same telephone switching system, 9-1-1 dispatch centers serve residents throughout the provinces as well as the states.

In addition to 9-1-1, there are other, lesser-known N11 numbers, or telephone short-codes, that connect callers to a broad range of community services. These N11 numbers address non-emergency concerns like locating underground public utilities (8-1-1) or providing Telephone Devices for the Deaf (TDD) and relay services (7-1-1). 2-1-1 is designated by the FCC to connect callers to community information and referral services.

In Minnesota, as well as many other states, 2-1-1 services are not under the jurisdiction of state or county government agencies; they're operated by United Way and are funded by grants and donations. 2-1-1 operators are available 24/7 and are trained to quickly assess needs and connect callers to the resources they need.


What Resources Can 2-1-1 Provide?

United Way 2-1-1 provides confidential and free health and human services information in all languages. Within the state of Minnesota alone, 2-1-1 call centers have access to a shared database containing more than 40,000 resources. However, the most common reasons Minnesota residents call this non-emergency hotline include the following:

1. Food and Housing Support

In addition to food pantries and meal delivery options, 2-1-1 can connect callers with information about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and other meal options for school children and seniors. Call center operators are also frequently asked about rent assistance, home repair, and low-cost housing programs. While food and housing support have always been critical, during the pandemic, call center specialists saw a 150% increase in connections to food programs alone.

2. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Resources

The pandemic also led to a mental health crisis throughout the United States in both adults and children. Individuals struggling with mental health issues and parents seeking help with their child's mental illness can find a range of services available through 2-1-1, including counseling, crisis intervention, and treatment options for substance abuse issues.

3. Legal Assistance

United Way 2-1-1 is also frequently contacted to provide help with a wide variety of legal matters, like applying for government benefits, self-representation, driver's license retention and reinstatement, child custody, and much more.

4. Youth Programs

A variety of youth programs, including tutoring services, youth employment opportunities, and recreational and therapeutic camps are available throughout Minnesota. While a Google search may yield only a few results, speaking with a 2-1-1 specialist is an excellent way to learn about what programs are out there, and what might be a good fit for children with special needs.

5. Medical and Dental Clinics

Screenings, specialized treatments, medical equipment, and more can be prohibitively expensive, even for those who have health insurance. 2-1-1 operators often receive calls for non-emergency medical needs throughout Minnesota.

6. Job Training Opportunities

Requests for vocational training and employment opportunities typically account for 5% of 2-1-1 calls in Minnesota. Call center specialists also connect state residents with tax preparation services, unemployment benefits offices, and money management resources.

7. Household Items

People in need of clothing, school supplies, appliances, furnishings, and more can receive assistance through 2-1-1. These items may seem secondary to other concerns, but a lack of access to a comfortable bed, for example, can exacerbate job and school performance issues, and affect physical and emotional health. Furniture often plays a crucial role in allowing residents to accomplish tasks, like preparing meals, doing school work, and resting comfortably after a day's work.   


How Does 2-1-1 Benefit the Community?

While there will always be a need for non-emergency health and human services, in times of hardship, 2-1-1 is an excellent source of data about rapidly changing circumstances throughout the community. During the height of the pandemic, for example, past surveys and other government data could no longer provide an accurate picture of what and where community needs were greatest. 2-1-1 call centers provided real-time information to relief organizations and nonprofits about what kind of support residents needed most, and how resources could be allocated effectively.

While 9-1-1 remains the most widely known N11 number, many people are not aware that 2-1-1 exists, let alone that it connects callers to critical resources and support. Calling 2-1-1 does much more than save residents a tremendous amount of time trying to research which service might be right for them. 2-1-1 call centers also help prevent many issues from developing into emergencies. Access to community health centers alone can reduce 9-1-1 calls by 22%. That number represents significant savings to the entire community and results in far better long-term.


How You Can Help

To boost awareness, United Way helped launch a 2-1-1 public service advertising campaign in mid-July 2021. But there are many ways you can help spread the word. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and one simple post on social media can have a far broader audience than any television campaign. February 11th is National 2-1-1 Day, and it's an excellent opportunity to let people know that help is just three digits away.

Raise Your Hand  Raise your hand and join our community in the fight for change on behalf of  the students, families, businesses, and neighborhoods who call Central  Minnesota home. Join the Cause 



Published on Mar 28, 2022 8:00:00 AM

Topics: Join the Cause, Financial Stability, 211