Who ya gonna call when facing a problem? 2-1-1 busts out the solutions

Many Michiganders who’d never faced financial struggles before found themselves in desperate need amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As always, 2-1-1 was there to answer the call.

“In 2020, our team made 76,900 referrals to over 1,500 agencies and organizations in order to get our residents the help they needed during these unprecedented times,” said Sarah M. Kile, executive director of 2-1-1 Northeast Michigan.

“This has been a very difficult time for many, many people in our community. But our mission is to make sure no one struggles alone.”

Sarah Kile2-1-1 is a free national resource connecting people in need with people who can help – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To get connected, all you need to do is dial 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898-211.

In Michigan, there are seven regional contact centers staffed with trained specialists who will help locate resources in the community. The Northeast region includes Bay County and 22 other counties in northern Michigan and the Thumb.

Last year, Michigan 2-1-1 helped more than 500,000 people find the help they needed with food, bill payments, housing and utilities, health care, clothing, transportation, mental health, substance abuse, and more.

In Northeast Michigan, calls for assistance in 2020 surged by 20% over the previous year. Referrals for health care, which includes COVID-19 tests and information, was up significantly over 2019.

Here’s a breakdown of the Northeast region’s 76,900 referrals as a percentage of contacts:
  • Utility assistance: 19.28%
  • Housing-related assistance: 15.07%
  • Food/meals: 12.68%
  • Health care: 11.32%
  • Income support/assistance: 8.59%
  • Disaster services: 6.04%
  • Information services: 3.57%
  • Other services (clothing: personal/household needs; legal services, individual, family and community support; mental health/addictions; transportation; economic services; donations; employment; education; arts, culture and recreation): 17.32%

“I’m very proud of the work our team did in helping people during this challenging time,” Kile said.

The 2-1-1 Northeast center also played a key role in helping families in five mid-Michigan counties affected by flooding in May 2020 after the Edenville and Sanford dams failed.

“Working with each county, we were able to get help from 2-1-1 centers all across the country to respond to nearly 3,000 contacts looking for help with shelter, food and water,” Kile said.

2-1-1 Northeast Michigan connects callers with an array of services across the region. Other agencies in the area partner with 211 to identify resources and needs. Veterans in need

If Brad Blanchard had to describe the last 18 months in one word, that word would be “crazy.”

“Between the pandemic and the flooding, it’s been a very busy year for us,” said Blanchard, director of the Great Lakes Bay Veterans Coalition, which helps local service members, veterans, and their families.
"I have called several places. You have been the first one to listen to me. I appreciate the extra time spent helping me. Thank you, you are doing a good job."
- Anonymous 2-1-1 caller
It’s hard to define all that the Coalition does to help veterans – because it’s a little bit of everything. Simply put, they mobilize help for local veterans who need assistance.

To make that happen, the coalition works closely with 2-1-1 Northeast Michigan to help direct resources to area veterans in need.

“One of the first questions we ask when we get veterans calling is if they’ve already contacted 2-1-1,” Blanchard said. “That’s because 211 Northeast Michigan is a great partner and their team is happy to work one-on-one with our veterans.”

Blanchard recounted one instance when a local veteran needed to leave a bad living arrangement. The woman was able to find new housing – and 2-1-1 Northeast Michigan helped connect her with furnishings and services.

“It’s an awesome resource for our community, whether you’re a service member or not,” he said.

Some fear tough times are ahead as federal and state assistance implemented during the height of the pandemic come to a close.Neighbor helping neighbor

Kile said 2-1-1 Northeast Michigan is blessed with the support of many generous donors and the United Way.

“When you give to your local United Way, you not only help fund 2-1-1, you also fund all the organizations in our database who we rely on to help others,” Kile said.

President/CEO Nicole Luczak said United Way of Bay County is proud to support 2-1-1 Northeast Michigan and fund the critical services it provides.

“Our mission to bring the community together to make an impact could not happen without this coordinated effort to connect individuals with resources,” Luczak said. “This was especially important during the pandemic, when so many families found themselves with needs they have never experienced before and needed a place to turn.”

While everyone hopes this critical time has passed, Kile said she fears more tough times are ahead as federal and state assistance implemented during the height of the pandemic comes to a close.

“There’s a cliff coming and it’s getting closer and closer as that extra assistance goes away,” she said. “It’s now more important than ever to continue giving to your local charities and United Way so all of us can continue helping our neighbors in need.”