News : Now 14 Years Old, Local 211 Center Answers 54,000 Calls in 2016
Omaha, NE, USA, USA, February, 2017 -- For the past 14 years, people in need could dial 211 and receive a referral to an appropriate service organization.
United Way of the Midlands, which operates the 211 call center, marked the center’s 14th anniversary on Saturday, Feb. 11, which was also National 211 Day, said Kathy O’Hara, director of public relations and editorial services.
The staff – four full-time and four part-time employees – refer callers to public and nonprofit agencies that offer services in their area of need, O’Hara said. The call center offers the free service to residents of nine counties in southwest Iowa and the whole state of Nebraska. Assistance is available in multiple languages.
"They give them all the contact info," she said. "I think it’s helped an awful lot of individuals and families."
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The center answered 54,000 calls in 2016, including 2,345 from southwest Iowa, according to the United Way.
Callers were most often seeking housing or utility assistance, which were the focus of 55 percent of the calls. Individual and family support services were the reason for 9 percent of the calls, and food assistance was requested in 7 percent. Currently, the center is receiving calls about where free income tax preparation is offered, O’Hara said.
Calls from southwest Iowa represented 2,539 needs, and some callers had more than one need, O’Hara said. Of the southwest Iowa needs, 1,453 concerned housing and utilities (57 percent), with 35 percent pertaining to housing and 22 percent utilities. Food made up 170, or 7 percent, of all needs.
The Salvation Army receives many calls for housing and utility assistance – sometimes from people referred to the organization by the 211 center, said Maj. Donna Miller, Council Bluffs Corps officer. The organization provides about $4,000 a month for rent and utility assistance to those who qualify, she said. Recipients must have a steady income, meet income guidelines and receive help only once a year.
"We can’t do security deposits or their first month’s rent," she said. "We will help with rent if they’ve been there at least six months."
New Visions Homeless Services – which operates the Joshua House men’s emergency shelter, Timothy House Transitional Living program and MOHM’s Place meal site – also receives clients from the call center, said Brandy Wallar, program director.
"We get referrals from them all the time," she said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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