211 line expands to most of Bay Area

February 11, 2008 12:42:29 PM PST
You know about the emergency number 911, and how to get information by phone by calling 411. Now the service hotline 211 is expanding. It connects people with a variety of community and disaster services in different languages.

211 is already in place in Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties. Now four other Bay Area counties will be able to dial in, 24 hours a day toll-free.

"I called 211 for my mother who has Alzheimer's and I've needed some in-home support for her and some support for my father as a caregiver," said Anne Wilson, CEO, United Way, Bay Area.

She said you can call with 211 with just about any question -- with how to find housing, also for immigration services. Call taker Betty Creary said she has been stumped before, like the morning after Hurricane Katrina.

"The very first call I got was from a shelter worker in Louisiana saying, I have a family coming to San Francisco on the Greyhound bus," said Betty Creary, 211 database manager.

The call caught her flat footed but she figured it out and found the family a place to stay. And if a major outage hits the Bay Area -- 211 will be the number to call to find out about issues like shelters and evacuation routes. But for now, they are happy to help you with any issue that is too tough to conquer on your own and they are thrilled to announce its expansion in the Bay Area.

"When you are faced with some issue in your life, sometimes it paralyzes you, you just can't think," said Creary.

The issue is funding -- 211 relies on money from local governments and private donors. They are lobbying in Washington to secure federal money for the program because they want someone to always be there to answer the phone in case you suddenly need to call.