On Feb. 11, NJ 2-1-1 and all 2-1-1s across the country, will be commemorating 2-1-1 Day in honor of a national system designed to be a front line in resource and referral for those seeking help with health and human service needs. In New Jersey, the system was put in place when the NJ Board of Public Utilities designated the 3 digit dialing code as a direct line for information and referral services for New Jerseyans in need. NJ 2-1-1 opened its doors in 2005 and has been answering calls for help since then, each year showing increasingly higher call volumes. “In 2017 we responded to 458,134 inquiries,” says NJ 2-1-1 Executive Director Melissa Acree. “When someone is in need of help and just doesn’t know where to turn, the power of being able to dial 2-1-1 and speak directly with someone who knows all about state and local programs and services just can’t be over stated. It’s a life saver.”
The call center is always open, and services are free, confidential and multilingual. Callers’ stories offer a poignant portrayal of the essential service being provided. “Working at NJ 2-1-1 gives me the opportunity to really feel like I can make a difference in someone’s life,” explains Michael, a community resource specialist. When asked for an example, he says he has many, but he talks of a caller who was distraught because she was struggling with being homeless.
She had slept in her car for several days and said that she had reached out to a few organizations that she knew of, but had been told that she could not get help because her part-time salary precluded them from assisting her with emergency housing. Michael shook his head and said, “She was frightened that she was going to lose her job because she felt that she had nowhere to get a foundation to put her life together. I talked with her for a while and learned that she was a veteran with an addiction issue. She felt that there was no one to turn to. Everyone in her life had abandoned her and she sounded like she wanted to give up.”
The longer Michael spoke with her, the calmer she sounded, he said. He was able to refer her to a VA hospital where she could get her addiction issue addressed while simultaneously being housed in the domiciliary. That setting would enable her to speak with fellow veterans who would sincerely understand her plight and would help her back on her feet. While there, she would also be exposed to a case management team at no cost who would work with her to find the foundation that she needed to “put her life back together.” Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) is another referral often given to veterans in this situation because this organization provides services that address multiple needs.
“You would like to think that this is an exceptional story that Michael has conveyed,” says Ms. Acree, “but it is not. We hear stories of struggle every day and more often than not, we are able to point people towards existing programs and services that can help.” That ability to offer help and hope is what NJ 2-1-1 is all about.
It’s worth celebrating.
In 2017 NJ 2-1-1 answered 458,134 inquiries for help, including:
Calls for help with finances and housing-related issues are consistently among the top needs expressed.