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INDIANA COUNTY: New human services helpline open

by on February 28, 2013 10:20 AM

911 has been America’s emergency telephone number for more than four decades.

411 is generally recognized as the number for local directory assistance.

And now there’s 211 in Indiana County.

As of Wednesday, county residents can dial 211 and be connected with a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week who can connect them with human services help. The operators will assist individuals find services such as emergency shelters, food banks, crisis intervention, keeping their home’s heat on, child care, avoiding eviction, and other health and human service resources. The calls are free and confidential.

About 270 million Americans — roughly 90 percent of the nation’s population — have access to 211. The 211 system was launched in Pennsylvania in 2006, and PA 211 Southwest started in July 2011. Available on a limited basis in a few southwestern Pennsylvania counties since then, PA 211 Southwest has already fielded nearly 45,000 calls from people seeking human service assistance.

The United Way of Indiana County and the Indiana County Department of Human Services have been working with PA 211 Southwest for several months to bring this service to Indiana County.

“There’s been a lot of work done behind the scenes to get us where we are today,” said commission Chairman Rodney Ruddock.

Although the Indiana County Department of Human Services provides information and referral, the ease of remembering and dialing a three-digit number is one of the reasons the Department of Human Services and the United Way of Indiana County are supporting the use of the number.

“By making one phone call to 211, our residents will have quick access to help for a wide variety of human service issues,” said Susan Sapko, executive director of the United Way of Indiana County.

The person on the other end of the line is a trained “resource navigator” who receives weekly updates on programs and resources available.

Sapko said the United Way will provide $25,000 to help fund the 211 system for the first three years in Indiana County. The United Way will also track which services are being requested most often on the 211 line, and that will help United Way leaders decide where monetary resources should be allocated.

County Commissioner Patricia Evanko said having the system in operation should take some pressure off the 911 system, which more appropriately is for emergencies.

Residents of Indiana County may also locate resources through the website at www.pa211sw.org or the Department of Human Services website at www.humanservices-countyofindiana.org.



Randy Wells has been a reporter and staff writer at The Indiana Gazette since 1988. His regular assignments include coverage of the Indiana County commissioners, Indiana Borough council and the Marion Center Area School District. His email address is rwells@indianagazette.net.
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