May 27, 2010

A Streamlined Resource for the Homeless

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When a single mom with two children flees a domestic violence situation and has no money, no relatives, and no place to go, what does she do? She can contact 211.

I am not sure many people know about this service, but the state manages a resource line that provides the names and contact information of organizations that assist the public. The resource directory is also online at http://www.resourcehouse.info/win211/.

The 211 website search function for transitional housing in King County came up with 71 listings. A statewide search came up with 143 listings. The listings typically provide the phone number, hours, a link to the website, and the address. (Note: the addresses for domestic violence shelters are not listed.)

When searching “domestic violence,” a page that narrows the search by topics appears. Topics include a multilingual shelter hotline, domestic violence support groups, counseling services for children affected by domestic violence, and much more.

Overall, the website was fairly easy to use and you can search by county or area code, which is nice. You can even create an account to save searches. The second option is to call 211. The phone operator first prompts you to press one for English and two for Spanish. These two options make me wonder what non-English or Spanish-speaking refugees and immigrant populations do when first faced with a crisis situation.

The voice-recorded operator then directs the caller to dial a number for H1N1 or census information. After wasting my valuable minutes, I am finally transferred to a real-life person. His name is Cory. I soon learn from Cory that the area code of the phone number a person used to dial 211 directs them to that specific county’s information line. For example, I live in Seattle, but I have a 360 area code, so I was automatically routed to the call center for Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties.

A phone with a 206 area code will be routed to the King County call center. I think that is pretty genius. I only wonder what happens when a person uses an out-of-state cell phone. (If someone wants to try it, I’d love to hear how it goes.)

Cory says the two main reasons people call the information line is to be given call numbers and to be directed to utilities assistance programs. The second reason just goes to show how hard people are being hit by this economy.

A live person will pick up your call Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m., depending on the county. On nights and weekends, 211 is just a recording, but it does provide the contact information to the crisis clinic line.

It is ironic that 211 does not have a live operator during the times when people probably call the most. I wonder why the government chose not to man the line during the most convenient times for the public to call. All in all, I believe 211 is a fantastic resource for the community. The website is clear and the search options were easy to understand. Also, unlike most phone operators I have experienced, Cory was congenial and helpful. Now, all the state needs to do is change the call center’s operation hours to best serve the needs of the public.

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