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Agencies Fill the Gap Left by 2-1-1 in Ionia and Montcalm Counties

Agencies fill the gap left by 2-1-1 in Ionia and Montcalm counties

By Meghan Nelson | on October 20, 2016

Within the last year, Montcalm and Ionia counties lost its 2-1-1 service, which provided health and human resources to those in need.

The Montcalm Human Service Coalition unanimously decided to cancel 2-1-1 in Montcalm and Ionia counties in December 2015, effective in January 2016.

According to meeting minutes, the coalition “does not support the continued diversion of local funds for 2-1-1 and recommends that the service be suspended until a sustainable source of funding can be found.”

The purpose of 2-1-1 was to give people in need of health and human services a phone number to be connected with shelter, food, clothing, health and other related services.

Since the loss of 2-1-1, local agencies have rallied to fill the gap and spread the word about their own services.

“If they call United Way, we direct them to the agency that handles their crisis need,” said United Way Executive Director Terri Legg. “If a resident calls 2-1-1 for services, the 2-1-1 call center associate will then refer the caller to DHHS or EightCAP — they will provide the phone number for one or both agencies — for services and provide the appropriate phone number.”

EightCAP has several resources for those who call in search of assistance, including a Housing Hotline for individuals facing homeless situations. EightCAP staff members screen callers to determine which housing and shelter program fits their needs.

“We have programs for the general population and programs specifically for veterans,” said EightCAP President Daniel Petersen. “I should also note that housing programs are rental-based programs, not necessarily homeownership programs.”

Sometimes, EightCAP receives calls for services they can’t directly fulfill.

“When individuals call our agency and are only seeking a referral, as opposed to a service that is offered under one of our agency’s programs, our front-line staff usually point them to the appropriate county resource directory,” Petersen said.

The county resource directory is county specific to Ionia or Montcalm counties and is updated annually. The directories contain the names of human service agencies within each county and a brief description of services.

Another need 2-1-1 once provided that EightCAP now assists with involves heating.

“Our Community Service Offices in Ionia and Montcalm counties are available to provide one-time assistance with basic heating needs, such as metered and deliverable fuels,” Petersen said.

Right now, there are no plans to bring 2-1-1 back to Montcalm and Ionia counties. The estimated cost of the services would be a minimum of $35,000 per year. The cost was based on call volume in 2015, but fluctuated with the increase or decrease of calls.

Legg said sustainable funding would have to be available to bring back 2-1-1.

“Ideally, that is a combination of local (city, township, county) and state government agencies, community foundations, corporate giving, family foundations, local philanthropists, county commissioners, grant funding, human services agencies such as Health Department, intermediate school districts, CMH (consumers access to services), area Agencies on Aging, possible libraries, Michigan Works, sheriff’s department (victim assistance), hospitals and hospital foundations (access to preventative services) and United Way funding,” Legg said.