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

Three Numbers To Dial When You're In Need: 2-1-1

Courtney Collins
The 2-1-1 call center in Dallas that handles an eight county area received well over 600,000 calls last year.

Texas is a big state, with a big heart. That means a lot of non-profit organizations and well-meaning charities ready to help citizens in need. But sifting through all the options can be overwhelming.

As part of our new series “One Crisis Away,” a look at where to start if you find yourself short on cash or resources. And the first step can be simple as dialing three numbers—2-1-1.

Since the lines opened in 2000, 2-1-1 has been a popular number in North Texas.

“We, last year, took over 630,000 calls, the year before that we took about 500,000 and the year before that we took 428,000, so every year it grows 15 to 20%, says Deputy Director Jacqueline West with the Community Council of Greater Dallas.

West’s organization runs the 2-1-1 call center in Dallas which serves eight North Texas counties and gets almost 2,000 calls a day.

For people dealing with financial problems, 2-1-1 is the starting gate for assistance.

“Because it’s very frustrating to have a problem, especially when you’re not used to dealing with problems, social service problems, to have to call more than one place. To not know where to begin,” says West.

The most common 2-1-1 calls are from people who need help paying utility bills or finding a food pantry. Operators get a lot of calls about healthcare too; Medicaid and now Obamacare. But 2-1-1 can give referrals far beyond the basics.

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA News
Jacqueline West and Martha Blaine in the call center.

“People don’t think they have a lot of options with childcare, we have a list of places that you can call to get childcare. Legal help. We only list non-profits, so if you have a legal situation that a non-profit can help you with, we can make the right referral,” West says.

A lot of 2-1-1 callers are low-income, but Executive Director Martha Blaine says these days, people with steady jobs need help too—the kind of folks who are one crisis away from financial trouble.

“I think it is hard for families, especially those who have never had to seek help outside their immediate family before,” says Blaine. “And we’re seeing that increase now, people that have never used social services don’t even know what’s available.”

But Blaine says, don’t worry about that. If you need assistance, just dial.

All the non-profit organizations that 2-1-1 refers callers to have been checked out, which means you don’t have to worry about scams.

West hopes that’s enough to calm the nerves of first time callers. Because too many people who need help, hesitate.

“By the time people call here, they’re almost in a 9-1-1 situation even though they’re calling 2-1-1. Because their needs are so urgent that they need help right away,” says West.

Anyone in Texas can call 2-1-1.

For the next four months, One Crisis Away will be spotlighting North Texans who don’t have enough money put aside to last three months after a financial disruption. You can watch a video of the first family we've profiled and see all of our One Crisis Away stories and resources here.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.