United Way’s PA 211 Southwest helpline is a comprehensive source of information about local resources and services. Part of a national network, PA 211 Southwest serves people in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties. People in need reach out for help online, through text, calls, or through their new web application, then a Resource Navigator helps assess their needs and coordinate for assistance.
Most help requests 211 receives are from people looking for help meeting basic needs like housing, food, transportation, health care, and utility assistance. In terms of transportation, they assist in coordinating trips to medical appointments through Northern Area Multi-Service Center (NAMS) and a partnership with Lyft. They also help with a housing stability program together with Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS). One other way they assist is with United Way’s Free Tax Prep program, scheduling appointments with IRS-certified volunteers to assist anyone with a household income of less than $57,000 a year.
211’s Resource Navigators speak 150 language dialects. In the last six months, United Way’s PA 211 Southwest had 120 Spanish-speaking contacts.
Renata, a Spanish-speaking mother of two who is visually impaired, called with concerns about food access. She’d received a number of referrals from PA 211 Southwest over the months, and a delivery from the Emergency Food Access Program (EFA) through 211’s collaboration with local service providers. When her food stamps had run out and she had no way to get to the food pantry, 211 connected her with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (GPCFB) and their emergency deliveries to vulnerable people.
The need for assistance through 211 has grown throughout the years and especially during 2020. Nearly 150,000 requests to the helpline have come in since the start of the pandemic. 211 expanded services by responding to COVID-19 questions, providing assistance to new pandemic burdens, and in partnership with Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), scheduling vaccine appointments for seniors 65+ with limited internet access.
Rosaline, a Spanish-speaking client in need of rent assistance was referred to 211 by the Latino Community Center. She and her roommates were restaurant workers laid off during the pandemic shutdown. They worked with her to submit a Housing Stabilization Program (HSP) application. The program provides one-time or short-term financial assistance to prevent a housing crisis. Thanks to the connection made by United Way’s PA 211 Southwest helpline, she was able to remain in her home.
“I can’t think in English when I’m upset, so I’m glad I can speak Spanish when I call PA 211 Southwest,” said Rosaline.
One of the most common requests has been assistance in scheduling COVID vaccine appointments, and referrals to the appropriate clinics. People like Ignacio and his wife, Silvia, both in their 70s have medical conditions that increased their risk of complications from the coronavirus. A Spanish-fluent 211 Resource Navigator was able to assist in scheduling their appointment and even arranged for translation services once they arrived at the vaccination
site. The couple was extremely grateful.
When United Way’s PA 211 Southwest launched in 2011, two Resource Navigators answered 25 calls a day. Today, 34 Resource Navigators answer 1,000 requests each day. People find 211 through community agencies, like the Latino Community Center, marketing campaigns, social media, word of mouth and it is not necessary to communicate their legal status.
Our community is fortunate to have a resource like 211 to assist in times of need. Anyone who can use assistance is encouraged to reach out to 211 by dialing 2-1-1, visiting the website or new web application, or through texting their zip code to 898-211.