2-1-1: Connecting The Community With Help

The surprise October storm left many Buffalonians struggling to get help and find a timely, effective fix to their problems. For each problem you had there was a different number to call, and all of them seemed to be too busy to help unless the situation was an absolute emergency.
Imagine how much easier our lives would have been if there was one number – staffed to handle the influx of calls – that would help you find the answers to all your non-emergency problems. If all goes well, that number will be 2-1-1 and it will be fully operational by Fall 2007.
The United Way is pushing for state funding for a local 2-1-1 call center that can provide non-emergency help to citizens in our community. With the touch of a button it can put you in contact with the right people and get your essential services — from finding an after-school program to securing adequate care for a child or an aging parent.
“It will be an extraordinary resource that is long and coming,” said Arlene Kaukus, president of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. “At the end of the day, if we have services that can make a difference in peoples lives, but the people can’t find them and don’t know where to go to get the help they need, that’s an insufficient response. We need to make the connections – to easily link the helpers with the people who need the help.”
The resource requires $3.5 million in funding for the first three years of operation. A significant portion of that total has already been secured, but the hope of the program rests in the hands of state lawmakers when they reconvene on April 16. The regional United Way Board has committed $1 million to the program, and the State approved first-year funding of $800,000. In order for the program to take off (it is ready to go), second-year program funding must be embedded in the coming state budget. If it is, the Oishei Foundation will proceed with their $775,000 of funding over the first two years of the program.
Kaukus said she is hopeful their funding will be approved and Western New York will become the third call center operating in the State (the first two are in Westchester and Monroe County). The 2-1-1 number is currently serving 65 percent of the U.S. population; that’s roughly 196 million Americans who can call the non-emergency help center in their region.
The number has become a nationwide priority for United Ways, Kaukus said. The vision is to have 100 percent coverage of 2-1-1 in the United States and to integrate the systems so that in the event of a tragedy in one region, calls can be transferred to another call center for help.
“When you get 100 percent coverage of the country, there will never be a circumstance where people in an individual community will be without resources to find out where to get help,” Kaukus said.
If approved, the Western New York call center may be unique in the country since the office will be intentionally located with other first responders in the area through Central Referral Service. Kaukus said the integration recognizes the importance of a 2-1-1 number that can become a huge resource for 9-1-1 and other first responders.
“It is important for legislature to understand,” Kaukus said, “that while the United Way is leading the drive for 2-1-1, it’s an effort on behalf of people in our community, to benefit the people in our community.”

About the author  ⁄ Anna Miller


In NYC we have 3-1-1 and it runs 24/7 with info on who, what, where, and so on in the city to contact, complain and report problems too. It does work and if done right, it can work here too. I just hope it's not another 9-5 Mon-Fri service that seems to be the norm here...Some us WORK 9-5, MON-FRI and do not have the time to even use most of the services in this town unless we calll in sick or use our lunch breaks to do so. That would be my #1 COMPLAINT for this town.


I think there are Charities that do a wonderful job, however, I do not support government funding for any charities. Many charities have become an unofficial branch of the government using taxpayers money that could be supporting real, private sector job growth. That would reduce the need for government services in the long run.

I truly believe that charities could be fully funded with 100% voluntary donations if the overall size of government was reduced. Not only would the charities be fully funded, there would be enough money to address the real problems that exist.


Having the direct experience at sitting at the switchboard at the United Way I can tell you that a centralized system for callers is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL in this community. Depending on who answers a phone at what ever agency you happen to call, you can be routed to at least 3 other numbers which leads you back to the first number you called, getting you nowhere.

The United Way is a Brand that people know in the community as a place to turn to for help and with 2-1-1 in place all the 1000's of calls that are misplaced daily to the wrong agency won't be rerouted over and over. Not to mention the money and time that will be saved when all the non-essential emergency calls to Fire, Police, 9-1-1, Emergency are now just directed to 2-1-1 and then properly routed.

A person truly in need, doesn't necessarily flip through a phone book and far too often when they do, they get frustrated and give up not being able to find the help they need. Consolidating these community needs into one call center helps most importantly, the people who need help the most. And secondly, will end up saving money in our community in the long run.


Another wonderful government jobs creation program. Just what we don't need. This just duplicates information already available in the phone book and online. Out of fairness, any 211 system should have an opt-out clause that would exempt people from being taxed for wasteful government spending programs they have no interest in utilizing.

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