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Local United Way Says Recession Drives Record Number of Calls To Help Line

The United Way of Greater Houston says calls to its 2-1-1 Helpline set a record last year, as the recession forced more people than ever to ask for assistance with basic needs.

As David Pitman reports, nearly three-quarters-of-a-million people called the United Way, seeking referrals to other agencies that provide food, shelter, and affordable medical care.

David Pitman has more.


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Anna Babbin is president and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston.  She says ion 2009, the agency’s 2-1-1 Helpline handled more than 732,000 calls.

“And that’s a 27 percent increase over the call volume in 2008, or an additional 157,000-plus calls.”

Babbin says the increase is a reflection of some local statistics that, she says, prove the recession has hit Houston harder than many people might believe.

“We have an 8.2 percent unemployment rate, which is the largest in a decade.  And we know that 1 in 3 families are having trouble buying groceries once a month.  And that there are a million people without health insurance.  These are the kinds of calls we’re getting.”

And Babbin says many of the recent callers are telling the 2-1-1 operators that they never imagined they would have to ask for help.

“We see lots of families where there were two incomes, and they were down to one.  Or that their full-time job was cut to reduced hours, and it’s really hard to stretch the budget.”

Babbin predicts call volume to 2-1-1 will remain high through the year.  And the United Way is facing a challenge of its own challenge in fundraising.  It still has to raise 10 million dollars by the end of March to keep up with what the agency brought in last year.