New Castle News

July 14, 2013

County joins 211 help system

Mary Grzebieniak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County residents can now dial 211 for help with housing, utilities, food and other services.

Gail Young, executive director of United Way of Lawrence County, said the Lawrence County commissioners have authorized spending $5,000 and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has given a $5,000 grant to provide the service here for one year.

Lawrence County will join United Way’s Southwest Region 211 program. United Way of Allegheny County is hosting the service, Young said, and the call center is in downtown Pittsburgh.

To access the program, residents simply dial 211 for information and referral to a variety of agencies and charities that provide a range of services. Among them are credit counseling, rent and mortgage assistance, homeless shelters, employment information, job training, utility help, volunteer opportunities, senior citizen services, child care and school programs.

The service operates all day every day.

The 211 system can also be accessed by dialing (888)553-5778, which is toll free, or by going to the website at http://pa211sw.org.

Young said that while the service is already in place for all 11 counties, the United Way is uploading information for Lawrence County agencies.

In addition to Lawrence, the counties served by the regional system are: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Mercer, Washington and Westmoreland.

Young noted that 211 systems provide crucial help in weather emergencies too, adding, “The 211 system was a great resource during Hurricane Katrina.”

It also takes some of the burden from the emergency 911 call centers, Young pointed out, because an estimated 75 percent of all calls to emergency 911 are actually requests for non-emergency help. She added Pennsylvania is the 49th state to get the 211 service, which has been around for about 13 years.

Kevin Boozel, project manager for the Southwest Region, said funding and the number of different phone companies in the state have caused Pennsylvania to be a latecomer to the 211 system. However, he added implementation is about 90 percent complete in the state.

The United Way has taken the lead, Boozel said, and other funding has come from counties and private foundations.