Tag Archives: 211info

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

Power shut-offs loom as winter approaches

Last season, Oregon received $46 million in Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds. This year, the state received $22.5 million.

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.” Continue reading

Dead, in the red: Services report a rising number of people who can’t afford to bury their dead

By Stacy Brownhill, Staff Writer

A name in this story has been changed to protect the subject’s identity.

Grief was the first emotion to seize Sarah Jones after her sister died from advanced cancer earlier this year.

Financial worry was the second.

From her trailer in rural Oregon where she lived with her brother-in-law, Jones called 211info with a nightmarish concern. The funeral home holding her sister’s body had just told Jones she had twenty-four hours to come up with the $500 necessary for cremation. Otherwise, the funeral home said, they would put her sister’s body in cold storage and, eventually, a numbered pauper’s grave—a typical, legal process for indigent dead. 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