Help with rent, food a 211 phone call away - Albuquerque Journal

Help with rent, food a 211 phone call away

In reintroducing people to the 211 helpline, United Way of Central New Mexico is getting the word out with billboards, like this one near Second and Paseo del Norte. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Do you or someone you know need shelter, rental assistance, food, clothing or help finding a job? What about help learning to read or getting a GED?

The United Way of Central New Mexico has beefed up its helpline so finding that assistance is just a phone call away. And it’s taking advantage of the 2/11 date to reintroduce people to its 211 helpline, which has increased the number of people fielding calls, integrated a new expanded 211 website and is doing more community outreach.

Even though it’s been around for more than 20 years, the 211 information and referral helpline may be “one of our community’s best kept secrets,” according to Sondra Slivon, senior director of community impact for United Way of Central New Mexico. The service is now available in nine counties.

“The purpose of 211 is to connect callers with social services,” Slivon said. “Typically, the majority of our calls are for rental and utility assistance, and that was so even prior to COVID-19. When a community member calls 211, they’re connected with a community resource specialist, who drills down to identify and clarify what the caller’s needs are.

“So, the caller may need shelter, and the community resource specialist might ask, ‘Do you also need food or access to a clothing bank?’ And then they will give the caller referrals based on the resources in their zip code.”

Sondra Slivon: United Way’s 211 information and referral helpline “one of our community’s best kept secrets.”

Hannah Eisenberg, now the call center’s manager, was answering the 211 helpline one day last year when she responded to a call from an extremely distraught woman.

“She had recently lost her son, was in a domestic violence situation and was stranded at her home in a rural area of Central New Mexico because her car was in need of repairs,” Eisenberg said. “I talked with her and validated her concerns until she was calm, and then I found resources for grief counselors and connected her to the Family Advocacy Center for support.”

Finding someone to repair her car was important, because without reliable transportation, “she couldn’t get to Albuquerque to utilize the other resources,” said Eisenberg, who began calling various mechanics, “and through word of mouth found one in Albuquerque who does pro bono work, depending on the situation.”

The mechanic towed the woman’s car to Albuquerque and performed the necessary repairs free of charge.

“This is the importance of the work here at 211,” Eisenberg said. “A caller’s life situations can often be overwhelming and too big to take on alone, but with the support of a community resource specialist these calls can be broken down to easily understood concerns and addressed, leaving the caller feeling more hopeful and supported going forward.”

Not only has the call center staff been expanded from one resource specialist to four, including one who speaks Spanish, but the resource specialists can set up a three-way call with an interpreter who is part of a service that provides interpretation in 240 languages, said Eisenberg.

The 211 center currently fields 400-500 confidential calls a month and is staffed weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Messages left overnight are returned the next working day. The goal is to expand the call center’s hours, eventually turning it into a 24-hour operation, 7-days a week, she said.

Hannah Eisenberg: Leaving callers “hopeful and supported.”

The service also works in conjunction with a 211 United Way website, uwcnm.org/211-helpline, which now has a new expanded database that includes statewide literacy resources and literacy volunteering opportunities.

These community resource specialists can also help callers who need help navigating the website “that has been fully integrated with our call center software,” Slivon said.

United Way has begun actively marketing the program with billboards, social media posts and information in its monthly e-newsletter sent to 9,000 donors, partners and friends.

In addition, at community and senior centers and a host of other sites around the state where United Way’s free TaxHelp service is made available, business cards will be distributed listing information about the 211 helpline.

United Ways across the country as well as several in New Mexico, operate some version of a 211 helpline, Slivon said. The United Way of Central New Mexico generally serves the five-county area of Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia, Torrance and (most recently) Santa Fe counties. However, their 211 service also extends to Catron, Cibola, McKinley and Socorro counties, where that service would not otherwise be available, she said.

The inclusion of literacy program data and referrals, Slivon said, is being done in support of the ongoing Literacy Project and the media partners that are promoting it – the Albuquerque Journal, KOAT-TV and KKOB radio.

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