211info received more than 9,000 calls for utility assistance last fiscal year (June 2010-July 2011) in Multnomah County alone. It received more than 12,000 in the tri-county metro area.
From 211info: If you sit in the 211info call center it won’t be long before you hear from someone that needs help paying their utility bill. Some people call before their shut off notices pile up. But many are calling as a last ditch effort. These days, energy assistance funds disappear as soon as word drops that local nonprofits have money to distribute.
A porous safety net is leaving too many people behind. And as the months turn freezing cold, candle light isn’t enough for struggling families. One such 211 caller represents thousands of local residents who will have their power shut off this winter with nowhere to go. Names and certain indentifying information have been removed to protect the privacy of the caller.
Caller: “My power was shut off yesterday. I called you this morning. You said there were three agencies that had funding for energy assistance, but when I called them they were already out of money. What should I do now? It’s really cold.”
211info specialist: “Is there a way that you could take money away from other bills, like maybe your cable bill or a medical payment, so that you could pay to get the power turned back on?”
Caller: “I have to pay my rent or else I won’t have anywhere to sleep. I use my disability payment for rent; I get food stamps to pay for food. I had to pay in advance to see a dentist last month, and I just don’t have any money to pay for anything else. I don’t have cable TV.”
211info specialist: “Do you have a caseworker at the Aging and Disabilities office?”
Caller: “Yes, but she said she can’t help me.”
211info specialist: “Do you have any family or friends who might be able to assist you temporarily?”
Caller, crying: “No.”
211info specialist: “Are you part of a faith community that you could turn to for help?”
Caller, crying harder: “No. What am I going to do?”
211info specialist: “One option would be to go to the Women’s Winter Warming Shelter so you could be warm at night.”
Caller: “I am not homeless! I just need heat, and I don’t want to go to a shelter. I’m disabled, and I don’t even know how I would get there.”
211info specialist: “I don’t have any other suggestions for ways to get your utilities turned back on today. I hope you stay in touch, so if other resources become available you can try them. It sounds like you have a lot going on right now, and I’d like to get you over to someone who can talk about your feelings about your situation. I could transfer you there right now.”