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For Help with Basic Human Needs Dial 2-1-1

October 13, 2011

This is the seventh in a series of articles on agencies that participate in the Midland County Continuum of Care.

Have you run out of food? Do your kids need school clothes? Are you facing a shut-off of your electricity or fuel? Are you about to be evicted and don’t know where to turn?

Don’t call 911 or 411. Just dial 211, a free, confidential service.

When you call – day or night – a Certified Information and Referral Specialist (CIRS) will answer and direct you to one or more public or non-profit agencies which may be able to help with your specific need.

2-1-1 Northeast Michigan is one of eight call centers in Michigan providing information and referral services in Midland, Gladwin, Clare, Isabella, and Gratiot Counties. Next year the local 2-1-1 service expects to take in an additional 13 counties in northeast Michigan, according to Scott Redman, executive director of 2-1-1 Northeast Michigan.

In 2010 the phones at 2-1-1 Northeast Michigan rang almost 11,000 times. About ⅔ of the callers seek help with the basics – food, shelter, and utilities. The remaining ⅓ of inquiries covers a range of needs from auto repairs to bus fare to personal grooming supplies to dental care.

Amy Olson, one of two call specialists at 2-1-1, has been answering the phone for six years, beginning with her work at First Call for Help, a predecessor to 2-1-1 run by the United Way. A trained social worker, she ran a one-woman emergency services agency in West Virginia for 13 years before her husband’s job brought them to the Midland area.

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Olson reports that one of the most common current requests is for rent assistance, especially around the first of the month. The call specialists talk through options and direct callers to local resources such as Department of Human Services and churches. “Funding,” she says, “has been cut everywhere. Churches in Midland are very good at providing help, when other programs run out of funds.”

Requests for insulation, plastic sheeting, and skirting for mobile homes are also on the increase as fall approaches. The same is true of roof, floor, furnace, and water heater repairs and replacements.

Call specialists like Olson as a rule don’t know the outcome of their counsel, but occasionally have the satisfaction of hearing a caller say, “Thanks for talking me through the process. I now have places to try to get help.”

The referral center regularly seeks feedback from ten percent of those who call for help. Redman is happy to note that 98% of those who have used 2-1-1 would recommend the service to others.

2-1-1 Northeast Michigan has an agreement with Listening Ear, a partner agency in Mt. Pleasant, to take after hours calls. The arrangement, says Redman, provides seamless service and represents huge savings in overhead.

The local call center occupies a suite in the MidMichigan Innovation Center on East Ashman in Midland. From there Redman – a former Boy Scout executive – plus a resource manager, and two call specialists respond to calls from the present five counties.

2-1-1 Northeast Michigan is a 501c3 non-profit agency, funded by foundation, corporate, and United Way grants. Its modest budget is also helped by fees for service from the Department of Human Services and generous gift in kind donations. More information is available on the 2-1-1 website:

2-1-1 Northeast Michigan works with almost 30 agencies in the Midland County Continuum of Care to provide services to the homeless or those in danger of losing safe, supportive, and affordable housing.


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