Tag Archives: 211

Holding the line: A day in the life of 211info’s call center

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

You can hear it, from many miles away; that vacillation between hope and defeat grinding within men and women as they try to hold it together for the duration of one phone call.

They don’t always make it.

“We’re just beside ourselves. We’ve never been in this situation before and we don’t know what to do.” Continue reading

Poverty figures unlikely to change course anytime soon

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Census figures released Tuesday put on paper what many of us have known for a long time. Times are tough, getting tougher.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s figures, the nation’s official poverty rate in 2010 increased from 14.3 percent in 2009 to 15.1 percent — the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate and the highest since 1993. The Bureau estimates that more than 2.5 million entered poverty in 2010, totaling more than 46 million Americans. It is the fourth consecutive increase in that figure, and the highest number since poverty estimates have been published.

Oregon’s poverty rate is at 14.1 percent, essentially unchanged from 2009.

“The increase in poverty obviously means that there is a greater need for a social safety net,” said Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “We think today’s news about the increase in the poverty rate means that both Congress and the state need to start creating a good, robust jobs program and raising the necessarily revenues to fund the public services to lift people out of poverty.”

Sheketoff said the figures were not surprising, given the severity of the recession and the anemic recovery.

“Oregon has never done a good job at reducing the poverty rate,” Sheketoff said. “And unfortunately we have no one in state government who is responsible for that.”

In 2009, the Oregon State Legislature did raise taxes to cover the budget shortfall for basic services. The 2011 legislature did not, a move Sheketoff calls ill-advised. Among the reductions this year were cuts to the employment and skills training programs and child care services for low-income parents seeking employment.

The numbers may be the highest since 1993, but the conditions are different, Sheketoff said.

“Our safety net for poor families with children was better in the early 1990s,” he said. “We had a more robust program for families with dependent children, a more robust jobs programs and skills program. We are serving a smaller percentage of the poor than we used to and we’re giving them less. The legislature wrongly scaled back the basic job opportunity and skills program. We’ve let inflation erode access and made cutbacks.” Continue reading

You’ve got questions? 211Info has the answers

by Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

On the 8th floor of 621 SW Alder Street, beats the pulse of Portland’s economic and social wellbeing. It is the headquarters for 211Info, the nonprofit referral center for community services. More than 100,000 people called 211 last year to get information on not only what services could help them in times of crisis, but also how to navigate the often unwieldy bureaucracy of government assistance.

Not surprisingly, calls to 211Info are on the rise — up 25 percent over the same period last year. Web searches on the 211web site are up 45 percent. Foreclosure related calls leapt from 267 in 2008 to more than 1,300 in 2009. Those calls spiked the day The Oregonian published new information about $88 million available to Oregonians in foreclosure. But the predominant needs remain with basic survival services, finding emergency food and shelter, and their coming from more and more people who have never called for services before. 211Info acts as the region’s frontline processing center for disseminating needs and assistance, and as such, is a bit of a canary in our economic coal mine.

It’s a tough canary, however, and soon to go statewide.

Liesl Wendt is the CEO of 211Info, which currently serves seven counties in Oregon, including the Portland metro area, and four counties in Southwest Washington. This year, 211Info received an $85,000 grant from Meyer Memorial Trust to support its goal to serve all of Oregon by 2013. It’s an ambitious undertaking that will nearly double the nonprofit’s $1.2 million budget, but it will leverage local information, service needs and the call center’s capacity to serve all Oregonians.

Joanne Zuhl: Can you speak to what your call takers are hearing from people and what that’s telling you?

Liesl Wendt: I think most significantly, the last two months we’ve been doing an experiment and asking additional questions when people call in, and one of them is if you’ve been newly unemployed or lost your hours in the past 12 months. And the other is are you a new caller to 211, and both of those are around 55 percent. So what that tells us is not only are we getting more phone calls, we’re getting more calls from people  who have never used us before. That was our sense on the calls from anecdotes from people, but I think it’s an exclamation mark that people have either done their internet research and maybe they’re new to social services and maybe they still have access to the Internet as a way to look for information. Maybe they’ve made a few phone calls and run into deadends and so they call us and really need help navigating the system. Continue reading

Warming Center open in City of Gresham from Mon. Dec 7th through Wed. Dec. 9th

Due to the extreme cold temperatures, a Warming Center will be open in the City of Gresham for Monday December 7th, Tuesday December 8th and Wednesday December 9th at:

1st Baptist Church, 224 W. Powell, Gresham OR  97030

It will be open from 8pm to 8am and will serve adult individuals.

For more information go to 211.