County 211 line helps callers with human-service issues

Melody Wachowski

Calling 911 isn’t an option for people who need information about food and shelter resources in their neighborhood, but Portage County’s 211 line can get them the information they need.

The number is available to residents of Portage County who have questions about human service-related issues.

The Ohio 211 Collaborative and the Ohio Council of Information and Referral Providers are working with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and state legislators to make sure Ohioans have statewide access to the 211 call centers.

“The call centers are a nice thing for students who live in the area because it is easier to find the right phone number to call,” said Erin Dunbar, vice president of community services and director of 211 Portage. “We get many students who have families asking about child care and students who are looking for information about medical prescriptions.”

Some of the connections available through the 211 Ohio Collaborative include information about human services agencies, food and shelter providers, child care resources, special services for seniors, volunteer opportunities and county and city information.

“Certainly having a uniform emergency and information and referral hot line throughout the state would benefit everyone, including students,” said Kathryn Paugh, owner and president of KPR Communications.

Cell phone companies such as Sprint/Nextel, Verizon, T-Mobile and Centennial support 211 phone calls if there is a call center in the area.

The phone calls are immediately forwarded to a local 211 center, which directs callers to the appropriate agency.

In 2005, more than 13,500 people used the 211 service, 42.6 percent of which were for basic needs, Dunbar said.

Almost all of Ohio has access to 211, Dunbar said. The only areas left to reach are the very rural areas because they do not have organizations to support the cause.

“We are trying to help these areas by providing things such as technical assistance and funding,” she said. “We hope to reach every county by the end of the year.”

United Way has been working since 1999 to nationalize the program, but is beginning with connecting the centers within each state.

“Ohio United Way is working to convene everyone together to implement the system in Ohio,” Paugh said.

Currently, the call centers are individual operations that serve approximately 8.2 million Ohio residents. After the statewide initiative is complete, four to five additional centers will be opened, serving a total of 9.2 million Ohio residents, 82 percent of the population.

Contact social services reporter Melody Wachowski at [email protected].


Ashtabula, Brown, Butler, Champaign, Clark, Clermont, Columbiana, Cuyahoga, Defiance, Delaware, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton, Geauga, Greene, Hamilton, Henry, Highland, Lake, Lucas, Mahoning, Medina, Montgomery, Morrow, Ottawa, Pickaway, Pike, Portage, Preble, Ross, Stark, Summit, Williams and Wood

According to the most recent Ohio 211 update