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 DHS News April 2013   

2-1-1 Use is on the Rise

Statistics are showing that PA 2-1-1 Southwest is drawing people by the thousands to DHS, its providers and other helping agencies.

Data released for the first quarter by PA 2-1-1 Southwest show 15,587 calls made to the service in January, February and March. The figure nearly equals the number of calls for all of 2012, which is a total of 21,694.

The phone service started in July 2011 and began a web component in February.

 “We have been very pleased with the launch of 2-1-1,” said Anne Fogoros, operations director for the service, which covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Fayette, Mercer, Washington and Westmoreland counties.  It is funded by United Way, grants and foundations.

Samantha Murphy, DHS Resource Center Manager and Education Liaison, works with Victor Johnson, Resource Specialist for Children’s Court, in keeping DHS data updated for 2-1-1. As an experienced intake social worker, Samantha says the service is invaluable, and not just for the public.

Many people may remember the “Where To Turn” publication, a print product with hundreds of listings providers would page through seeking assistance for clients, she said. With Southwest 2-1-1, over 8,000 resources for clients are accessible far more quickly. They are even tailored by ZIP code.

“(The service) means a lot to people in this field,” Samantha said. “It helps the helping professional.”

She urges providers to check their listings online to ensure accuracy of the information given out via PA 2-1-1 Southwest’s trained phone and website personnel. That information includes phone numbers, addresses, program descriptions, officers, intake information and eligibility criteria.

Samantha said providers should not assume they are not listed, because they probably are.

Anne added that providers and agencies also should make sure that their phone systems allow 2-1-1 to be dialed. Offices may have systems requiring dialing a 9 or 8 to access an outside line, she said, so dialing 9-1-1 or 2-1-1 might require having a phone tech to tweak line access to permit quick dialing. (When dialing 2-1-1 from the county phone system, users must first dial 9.)

“Sometimes people think 2-1-1 doesn’t work. It’s really the connection to 2-1-1 that doesn’t work,” Anne said.

2-1-1 staffers are certified by the Alliance of Information Referral Systems, she said. That means they must pass a test to show they can confidentially deal with troubled callers, explain how government programs work, and make an accurate assessment of the caller “to make good referrals,” among other things, she said.

Those “good referrals” include surveying the caller to make sure the client is linked with all services he or she needs, Anne said.

So if someone calls for tax filing assistance, for example, the conversation may move along to find they also may need food support.

“We make sure they are connected to the important services, so there is enough help coming in the household as possible,” Anne said. “We don’t stop at taxes.”

More information is available is available on the PA211SW website.

What people want

Data contained in PA 2-1-1 Southwest’s first quarterly report for 2013 show people contacting 2-1-1 for needs typical for the coldest months of the year. But they also show an exponential growth in the number of requests as the service has expanded to more counties and added its web component, and become better known.

From January through March, nearly 5,500 people sought tax preparation assistance;  almost 1,400 needed help with rent or eviction prevention; and thousands more sought help with utilities, shelter and food, in that order.  

An agency/organization was the top source of referral to 2-1-1, with about 4,100 referrals made. Rounding out the top five referral sources, were prior use of the system; friend/relative; flyer/brochure/poster; and utility company. 

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