2-1-1 help hotline calls tripled in March
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Pat Morris has worked almost 40 years in the crisis service industry.
She served on specialized teams that responded to the 2014 Oso mudslide and the student shooting later that year at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
But the director of the North Sound 2-1-1 hotline has never faced a situation as perplexing as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is surreal in that each and every one of is as much at risk as everybody else,” Morris said. “It’s not like a natural disaster. There’s not just one impacted group of people.”
The free 211 hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Calls to North Sound 2-1-1, which serves Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties, more than tripled in March to 3,130.
Snohomish County residents accounted for most of them, with 2,007.
“We’re getting calls from people who never thought they’d be in a position to need to reach out,” Morris said. “There are a lot of concerned citizens living paycheck to paycheck.”
Call volumes peaked shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 16 order closing restaurants, bars and other businesses, and again after Inslee’s March 23 decree for citizens to shelter at home.
More than 900 callers in the North Sound region specified they needed help due to COVID-19, and almost 1,200 asked for aid with rent or other housing needs.
There were 408 requests for assistance paying for a utility bill, and 305 requests for help getting food.
The statewide 2-1-1 network links people with local social service providers for a broad range of needs, from finding shelter to finding a tutor.
It is a key starting point for the Coordinated Entry System, in which specialists guide qualified people toward shelter and housing.
“We feel our main responsibility is to keep our database as updated and current as possible,” Morris said.
The North Sound 2-1-1 center is part of the behavioral health division of Volunteers of America Western Washington (VOAWW).
It gets funding from Snohomish County, United Way and the Verdant Health Commission, among others.
Ten staff, which have been working remotely, answer calls. A pair of community resource advocates assists those with emergencies and more complex needs.
Morris said VOAWW’s community partners are exploring creative ways to serve people during the pandemic.
“I don’t think anyone anticipated the financial impact,” said Morris. For many people, “their ability to make ends meet has come to an abrupt end.”
She wants the community to know 2-1-1 is available both to residents and any agency that can offer new resources.
“Call and let us know,” she said. “Everybody in this world is in this together.”
Find out more about 2-1-1 at www.wa211.org
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