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August 28, 2013

211 help number in operation here now

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County residents can call 211 now to get help with life-related problems, and someone will answer.

A memorandum of understanding the Lawrence County commissioners approved Tuesday solidifies the commitment to the 211 calling system here.

Area residents who have non-life-threatening matters can call the number to get help with housing, utilities, food and other social services, according to Lawrence County United Way executive director Gayle Young.

The 211 center will keep a database of all available local services and behind-the-scenes work is still going on to add agencies to the resource list so all of them are updated in the system by Nov. 2 , she said.

Young met with county department heads this week about the program.

“If county agencies have services to help people, they can get that information into the data base,” said Brian Melcer, county public safety director.

The 211 system is an undertaking of United Way’s Southwest Region. United Way of Allegheny County is hosting the service. Its call center is in downtown Pittsburgh.

Melcer explained to the commissioners Tuesday the 211 number should help reduce the volume of non-emergency calls the 911 center receives.

“It gives the callers a one-stop shop ... for information,” he said. Callers receive information for immediate services.

The 211 number also is available for people who have recovery needs after a declared disaster, such as storms or tornadoes, for repairs and financing, Melcer pointed out.

The number “will act as our social services arena during a disaster.”

“It’s a very important number for folks who are experiencing distress,” Commissioner Steve Craig commented.

Melcer said that under the memorandum, if the 211 center gets calls that are police, fire or medical emergencies, it will be able to send those calls to the 911 center.

To access the program, residents simply dial 211 for referral to various 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.

It also can be accessed by dialing (888) 553-5778 toll free or online at http://pa211sw.org.

Last month, the commissioners allocated $5,000 and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has appropriated another $5,000 for the calling system as a one-year allocation.

James Gagliano, county administrator, said whether the county will contribute more money after this year “has been discussed, but it hasn’t been determined.”

Craig said Lawrence is the only county he knows of that has kicked in money for the service. The United Way is funding it for a lot of other counties, he said.

The county’s contribution comes from its allocation of Marcellus Shale money.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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