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About twenty years ago, not long after I started my career with Penn State Extension, Welfare Reform was implemented across the nation. One element of reform was the implementation of FSSR, family service system reform. With the idea that families often were dealing with challenges that could be met by several human service agencies, why not bring those agencies together periodically so they would understand what services each agency provides and could make appropriate referrals. In many counties these networking meetings took the form of collaborative boards or human services coalitions. In addition to meeting periodically and sharing updates on current services, the groups also developed a printed directory outlining their contact information and available services. Copies of this publication were then distributed to the various agencies personnel, local libraries, school districts and other locations. Every few years the publication was updated and distributed.
Twenty years later, a new and improved method of finding help is being implemented across the commonwealth. An initiative of United Way and part of the national 2-1-1 Call Centers initiative, PA 2-1-1 builds on and greatly improves the concept of a printed document outlining local services. Rather than relying on outdated printed information PA 2-1-1 provides dynamic, real-time information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Local agencies populate information about their services on the site to assure that information is up to date. Currently 64 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties fall into one of several PA 2-1-1 service areas. By dialing 2-1-1 on any phone, the caller is connected to their local free health and human services information and referral hotline trained specialist. This service is particularly helpful to individuals and families who no longer have a landline phone and therefore may not receive a printed telephone directory that they could use to look up the phone number for various services. It is also helpful in that most of us don't schedule our crises during the workweek and between the traditional work hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Another benefit is that during the call, while the caller may have identified one particular need, the trained specialist can ask a series of questions that might elicit from the caller other needs that local agencies may be able to meet.
Most of us are aware that in the event of an emergency — fire, medical, car accident - we can call 9-1-1 — the universal emergency number to get assistance. That system was started in 1968 in Haleyville, Alabama and over time has extended throughout the nation and is funded by monthly fees included in telephone bills. Once the Pennsylvania 2-1-1 system is established statewide, it is expected that continued funding for the system will likewise revert to a fee attached to telephone bills. Services are not restricted to phone calls. Resources are also available through websites as well.
Here is a short summary of the types of helps available through the PA 2-1-1 system.
- Basic Human Needs — food banks, shelters, rent and utility payment assistance
- Physical and Mental Health Resources — crisis intervention, support groups, counseling
- Employment Support — financial assistance, job training, education programs
- Support for Older People and those with Disabilities — home-delivered meals, transportation, health care
- Youth and Child Care Programs — after-school programs, summer camps, mentoring, and protection services
Free and confidential information is provided to those who contact 2-1-1. TTY and language services in more than 170 languages and dialects are available.
Need help? Try calling 2-1-1 or visit the 2-1-1 website serving your part of Pennsylvania.