A new study of the United Way’s 2-1-1 of WNC program “shows us what we already knew to be true: In tough times, needs are on the rise,” says Director Rachael Nygaard.
The information line aims to connect callers with available health and human services in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties. The service is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “That over a third of calls [last year] were in relation to basic needs speaks volumes about the kind of situations our neighbors are facing,” Nygaard explains. “People are struggling to make ends meet and people are calling to find out what places in the area can provide food. We inform people about food stamps and other resources as well.”
The annual report found that people with health questions or concerns tied for second on the call list, with 12 percent of all callers seeking health-related support. Trained referral specialists then put those callers in touch with the right kind of service to match their individual issue, from cancer screenings to wound care.
In 2010, 54,605 calls were made to 2-1-1, a 49 percent increase in calls received two years earlier, and 35 percent of those calls were made by residents seeking help with basic needs such as food and housing, according to the report.
“We get a lot of calls where people are looking for some kind of community clinic,” Nygaard notes. “People may be uninsured or they may be on public insurance or in some kind of urgent care type setting.”
Since starting in 2001, the program has evolved to incorporate an e-mail service and a website that offers users a searchable database of more than 2,000 local public and non-profit programs. But Nygaard maintains that the heart of the service is still in the person-to-person care of the phone conversations.
“The more that there are high-tech ways for people to get connected to services, we are reminded of the importance of that human interaction,” she explains. “When people dial 2-1-1, they get a referral specialist who can listen and provide guidance and support. Sometimes it means brainstorming or helping people prioritize what their needs are. Sometimes it’s very straightforward and sometimes it’s more in-depth.”
It’s all part of the United Way’s holistic approach to wellness, she adds.
“United Way focuses on education, income and health,” she says. “We know that there’s a lot of back and forth between those three areas. We know that for someone to have good health, they may need the income or the education.”
To use the service, dial 2-1-1 on any cell phone or landline, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or access the database here.