211 returns to Ionia and Montcalm counties

211 returns to Ionia and Montcalm counties

Phone service offers resources to those struggling to pay bills

By Meghan Nelson | on May 24, 2018
From a young age, children are taught to dial 911 in case of an emergency.

But for those who are facing a crisis regarding day-to-day needs, another three-digit phone number can be a lifesaving hotline.

Ionia and Montcalm counties lost the local 211 service in January 2016; instead, a call center associate referred the caller to the Department of Health and Human Services or EightCAP — but those agencies can’t always fill the person’s need.

Starting June 1, 211 will once again connect those in Ionia and Montcalm counties who are looking for assistance.

United Way of Montcalm-Ionia Counties Director Terri Legg fought to bring back the program, working with Michigan Association of United Ways, Michigan 211 and the new call center in Grand Rapids at the Heart of West Michigan United Way.

Legg believes 211 will become a vital resource to those who are employed but still find themselves struggling to pay bills or buy groceries — a demographic which makes up about half of the families in Ionia and Montcalm counties.

“If you don’t know this statistic, it’s sad and amazing at the same time,” said Dave Seppela, president of Isabella Bank and treasurer of the United Way Board. “Montcalm and Ionia counties have just under 50 percent of its population living paycheck to paycheck, aka ‘working poor.’ This is even after a ‘return’ to normal economic times in our community.”

According to Legg, these Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) families are only one crisis (a rent hike, family illness, car problems) away from poverty.

“When a crisis does hit, people do not know where to turn,” Legg said. “Often times, they make too much money for state assistance and not enough money to be able to meet all of their needs. That is when calling 211 can help individuals to get the local help with food, housing, employment, healthcare, counseling and more.”

Right now, those in need of assistance have to overcome many barriers just to obtain the information they need, and Legg said people can lose hope when they have to call multiple agencies to find the help they need.

Another benefit of bringing the resource back is, because of the recent partnership with 211 and Department of Health and Human Services, those looking for assistance will be directed to agencies in their area that are able to meet their need.

“This is so critical that United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties is investing in approximately 50 percent of the total cost and our community partners are funding the remaining,” Legg said.

211 is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day. The number can be dialed on a phone, or help can be reached with a mobile app, which emails the 211 call center. There is also a text option (898-211) in which a United Way 211 operator will be available to respond to the message between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

211 connects those calling for assistance to organizations and programs who can meet their specific needs, such as housing, utilities, elder care, mental health and other services.

“Contacting 211 brings back the hope and encouragement in times of crises. It also allows us to analyze the call data to better be able to bring the services to the community that we are currently missing,” Legg said. “Together, we can strengthen our community and build a better tomorrow.”