211 specialist helping a client

Use 211 When You Need Confidential Help or Information [Infographic]

Louis DeNicola

211 is a free and confidential service that can help connect you with local resources and assistance. Whether you’re dealing with housing insecurity, lack of food, addiction, abuse, financial concerns, or other troubles, a 211 specialist may be able to help you.

What is 211?

The 211 service is available to almost 95% of people living in the United States, including in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The service is available 24/7/365 and in 180 languages.

211 Support when times are tough

Similar to how 911 works, when you dial 211 from your phone, you will be routed to a local or regional 211 center. Trained specialists can help you find information, connect you with resources in your own community, and offer direct assistance for your personal needs.

You can also go to 211.org to find the website for your local agency, where you can search for resources online and find other contact information.

Unlike Google or other companies, 211 resource databases are curated by experts who know your community, and resource information is updated regularly to ensure accuracy. And 211 specialists can offer additional guidance and support.

For example, your own search may find information online about utility assistance in your area. However, 211 specialists could help you determine which options are best for your specific situation. They could also explain what documentation you’ll need to apply (such as a copy of your bill and service agreement, and recent pay stubs) and suggest other resources that may help alleviate financial strain.

Who Does 211 Help?

211 offers help and inclusive services to anyone who needs it. In some cases, there will be an assessment to determine whether you qualify for assistance.

who does 211 help

Your conversation will be confidential — you can even remain anonymous if you prefer. You can also use 211 when friends or family members ask you for help. Without having to share your loved one’s specific information, you can call 211 and gather lists of resources on their behalf.

How Does 211 Help?

Because 211 centers connect you with local resources, the availability and options can depend on where you live. Some of the ways they can help include:

  • Housing, utility or food costs
  • Physical or mental health services, including suicide prevention and addiction
  • Employment and job-training programs
  • Childcare and questions about parenting
  • Domestic, child and elder abuse support

The 211 network also provides support during natural disasters or pandemics. In fact, calls to 211 increased by over 200% during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Local and state 211 agencies also provide specialized services and operate topical hotlines to provide more support to residents. For example, in August 2020, the United Way of North Carolina and Cybercrime Support Network partnered to help residents get support with cybercrimes, including identity, cyberstalking and cyberbullying.

What to Expect When Reaching Out to 211

The widespread availability of 211 means that almost anyone in the country can quickly reach a friendly, trained professional who will listen and provide referrals to resources. The referral results are specific to the caller and up to date, two things that a Google search can’t guarantee.

When you call, you may be asked some basic questions, such as why you’re calling and your zip code. Then, depending on the situation, a call could lead to:

Information: You might know what you need, such as a food pantry or medical clinic. But you may have questions about availability, locations or hours.

Referrals: If you have an issue but aren’t sure what kind of help is available to you, 211 could help you identify the proper resources and make referrals.

Advocacy: Perhaps you’re struggling to secure support and could use an advocate. The 211 specialist may help you through the process. That might mean finding a translator or staying on the line while you call another organization.

Listening: In addition to offering information and referrals, having someone to talk to and share your concerns with can be helpful. It’s important to note that 211 specialists are trained to listen and support callers without judgment.

Suicide and crisis support: Many specialists are also trained to de-escalate crises. They may do this before suggesting where to find additional resources, such as a counselor or safe shelter.


Don’t Wait for a Crisis to Strike

People often don’t want to ask for help, especially when they’re dealing with uncertainty. Some may try to ignore a potential problem or assume everything will turn out alright —until everything goes wrong. It can be helpful to think about the resources that 211 can connect you with as a supplement rather than a backstop.

For instance, you may be able to afford everything right now even if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck. But when the unexpected strikes, you may suddenly find yourself unable to afford enough food for your family. If the same emergency affects an entire community, there may not be enough supplies to go around.

If, instead, you’d applied for a financial benefit like SNAP or sought help filing your taxes to ensure you weren’t overpaying, you might have been able to build up a small emergency fund. The fund helps your household become financially secure. And, in doing so, helps relieve some of the pressure that community resources organizations and centers may be under during a large crisis. It’s a win-win for callers and their community.

As a go-to resource available to nearly everyone in the country, you can use this free and confidential service to learn more about a wide-range of assistance and support programs.

Whether you’re dealing with an immanent emergency or have a simple question, a 211 specialist can help you find and understand the options available in your area. Don’t hesitate to reach out when a need arises.

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