United Way 211 Line

It can be difficult navigating the numerous social service agencies for people looking for help. The United Way 211 line was set up to help people get to the right services for them. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports the job is not just about sharing information.

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"Let's see what this one is. Good morning. Texas United Way Helpline. How can I help you ..."

It's a simple question, but Information and Referral Coordinator Sandra Ray never knows what issues are going to come up. It can start with something straightforward.

"OK, and you need help, first you said your electric bill."

But the issues often are actually much more complex and Ray is trained to ask the follow-up questions that can reveal the bigger picture.

"Sometimes people have a hard time articulating exactly what's going on in their lives. They may call asking for help finding a food pantry and the larger issue is they are unable to find a good job."

The 211 line is answered 24 hours a day seven days a week. The current system was set up nearly five years ago. The number of calls have gone from 121,000 to more than 374,000 calls last year. Informational Referral Resources Director David Jobe says the calls do reflect what is going on in a community.

"When we looked at the statistic last year one of the big increases was in electric bill assistance particularly for low income seniors who used to have a portion of their electric bill paid and now they don't. We're getting more requests for electric bill assistance."

Every two years the data is compiled into a single report.

"We also provide the information to places like the city of Houston and also we do it on a statewide basis so that legislatures and local community officials can be aware of what the needs are and what the trends are."

Jobe says 75 percent of the callers are women and 53 percent coming from those between the ages of 31 and 59. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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