211 means help is just a phone call away

May 26, 2009 6:45:41 PM PDT
They are the "new poor" in the Bay Area -- people who have never been in need of help before, but who have been hit hard by the recession.

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If you live anywhere in the nine county Bay Area region, help is just a phone call away. It is as easy as dialing 211.

"We have a huge data base of all the non-profits and all the county and city government agencies, so people who are in economic distress and have specific needs can call us," Vice President of Operations for 211 Helen Rosen said.

Calls from San Francisco, Marin, Napa, Solano and San Mateo counties increased dramatically beginning in October. During the six months that followed, the number of calls for food assistance shot up 29 percent, the number of people asking for income and employment help increased 28 percent and calls about housing and shelter went up 8 percent.

"I also think there's a new set of clients coming that never called us before," call specialist Jose Santa Maria said. "People who had never needed assistance before and they want assistance."

Many of those calling are the new poor -- people unemployed, perhaps for the first time, who do not know where to turn for help.

All calls are completely confidential and bilingual assistance is available in 150 languages.

As the nation fell deeper into the recession, the types of calls have changed.

"They're looking more for their basic needs rather than an afterschool program for their child, they're calling for transportation for their child because they have to sell their car," call specialist Daphne Banash said.

The service began in San Francisco in 2006 and has now expanded to cover all nine Bay Area counties.

The only glitch right now is San Mateo County, where the 211 line has yet to be activated. But residents there can still reach 211 services by dialing 1-800-273-6222.

"You never know when you might be needing help and 211 is here to assist you," Santa Maria said.

Related Links:
211.org
211 Bay Area report card

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