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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Who's Calling 211 For What Kind Of Help? Tarrant County Examines The Numbers

Julian Carvajal

For families struggling to make ends meet, it’s hard to know where to find help. 211 Texas provides a roadmap.

The call service can help with everything from putting food on the table to Medicaid enrollment. Courtney Collins caught up with Tarrant County 211, which just released a report about who's been using the service.

A quarter million people called Tarrant County 211 in 2014; that’s a four percent bump from the year before. And when they call. Someone’s always there to answer.

Looking At The Numbers

Almost 70 percent of callers in 2014 were between the ages of 25 and 59 and more than 80 percent were women. Hispanics represented 40 percent of those using the service; the most of any ethnic group. Every time the phone rings though, it could be anyone-- calling about anything.

Calls are typically about housing, shelter and utilities. ‘Help paying the electric company’ is the most common request in that category. 211 Director Vicki Mize says you can actually tell when the bills go out based on what zip code calls in that day.

“For an example 76119. We’ll get a call that morning from somebody for help with electric bill. And then all that day, those calls are from the 119 area," Mize says.

Short Term And Long Term Help

That’s a basic, short-term need, like calling for information about a food pantry or transportation to a doctor’s appointment. A lot of those calls come in. The phone also rings with long-term requests. For people confused about state benefits, or people looking to enroll for the first time, 211 is the starting gate.

“Medicaid, long-term care support services, TANFF, food stamp programs, and they’re not sure of the process-- we help them navigate that process," says Mize.

Navigating the nonprofit network can be intimidating, especially if a caller isn’t exactly sure what kind of support would help most. Vicki Mize says it’s up to 211 to clarify that.

“If they’re saying that they’ve been out of work for six weeks and they’re looking for help for a prescription, well clearly they probably need other things too," she says. "So it’s our responsibility as 211 information referral specialists to make sure they’re aware of everything that might be able to help them.”

Creative Solutions

Sometimes that means getting creative. For example, Mize says a woman called 211 looking for transportation to work. She’d recently become paralyzed from the waist down and couldn’t drive herself anymore. Because she lived in one county, and worked in another, finding her a ride wasn’t an option. Adding hand controls to her car, was. 

“They were able to help her subsidize the cost to have her vehicle transformed so it had hand controls and when I followed up with her, her car was already back from the shop, she was driving herself to and from work, and not only to and from work, but church, the grocery store," Mize says.

Having stats about who’s calling 211 for what reason is a good thing. Mize hopes as more and more people dial those three numbers, the community will understand a little more about what 211 actually represents. It’s a directory of financial help, yes. But she says it’s also a place for caregivers to find relief, and a way for volunteers to get connected with programs.

“You don’t have to be in poverty to call 211. Anybody can call 211," Mize says.

And she hopes they will.