The 411 on 211 for the suburbs
By Tara Garcia Mathewson
Not 911, not 311 — the “new one-one” is 211, and Illinois communities are far behind the rest of the country in offering it as a service to residents.
But maybe not for long.
The number is a free, nonemergency option for information on health and human service agencies, spearheaded by United Way. More than 30 states have coverage for 100 percent of their residents, as does Puerto Rico. Illinois and Arkansas are the only two states with less than 20 percent of residents able to dial 211, according to United Way Worldwide 2011 statistics.
In February, a group of 83 Illinois counties granted Bloomington-based PATH Crisis the right to provide 211 service — which includes hiring operators to answer phones and also maintaining a database of human service agencies.
All of northeastern Illinois was left out of that group, largely because of the population density of Chicago and the collar counties.
Now though, David Barber, executive director of the United Way of Greater McHenry County, is working with six other local United Ways to create a similar collaborative across McHenry, Kane, Kendall and Lake counties. Barber is on the board of 211 Illinois and was the chairman for the committee that issued a request for information from potential 211 operators for downstate counties.
“People need to get connected with the organizations that can help them as quickly as possible,” Barber said. “Too many times people get caught in the circle of calling somebody, saying ‘OK, where can I go for help?’ Then they’ll send them someplace else.”
Barber said 211 will help people looking for resources and save nonprofits time answering phones and directing residents to other organizations.
“There will be one place, and that will be 211,” Barber said. “It gets people where they need to go the first time.”
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