COLUMBIA — The United Way 2-1-1 resource help line extended its coverage to 90 percent of Missouri on Tuesday. Coverage now includes Columbia, St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff, Hannibal, Joplin, Kirksville, Fulton and Willow Springs.
The 2-1-1 access number, which has been available in other states for roughly 10 years, was introduced in Missouri in the Kansas City area in March 2006.
The toll-free number connects Missouri residents with a wide array of health and human services, including food pantries, rent and utility assistance; physical and mental health resources; educational and vocational training programs; support for senior citizens, those with disabilities, children and families; and volunteer opportunities.
Right now, 2-1-1 connects only from landlines served by AT&T, CenturyTel and Charter phone companies. The final phase, which will begin in the spring of 2008, will expand coverage to all remaining areas of the state that aren’t currently covered.
At that time, Missouri will be the 21st state in the nation to have complete coverage. Forty-two states currently have a 2-1-1 line, which reaches an estimated 65 percent of the U.S. population.
At a press conference Tuesday, David Franta, executive director of the Columbia Area United Way, explained that government officials often receive calls requesting information and have to forward those calls to the correct outlets. The Missouri 2-1-1 program can help “relieve that burden,” he said.
Resource referral has been around for years, Franta said, though this is the first time it has been available nearly statewide, 24 hours a day and year-round.
One 2-1-1 call center serves Kansas City and 16 surrounding counties; a second call center is located in St. Louis, and calls are routed there from all other areas statewide.
In addition, there are four data hubs, located in Columbia, St. Louis, Springfield and Cape Girardeau. The hubs collect and update resources available to callers.
Haley Schwarz, a resource specialist for 26 northwest Missouri counties, including Boone, said the system’s database has some 10,000 resources, including food pantries, shelters, job counseling services and health resources.
“With one quick call, people can find the resources they need,” Schwarz said. “It’s really streamlining the process (of service referral).”
Missouri 2-1-1 is funded jointly by the United Way of Greater St. Louis and the Missouri Foundation for Health and is partnered with local United Ways around the state.
Linda McAnany is president of the United Way of Central Missouri, which represents Moniteau, Cole, Osage and Miller counties. Moniteau and Cole counties are not yet served by 2-1-1.
McAnany said she is “ecstatic” about the program’s progress and its spring coverage expansion.
“It’s a wonderful program that’s going to provide lots of people with good access to services,” she said.
Franta said when the system is fully operational, organizers expect between 100,000 and 200,000 calls a year.
He said the service also serves as an ongoing needs assessment because all calls are recorded, and the information requested helps organizers determine the availability of different services in different areas of the state.
Missouri residents who need information and are not in the coverage area can receive the same services by visiting 211missouri.org or by calling (800) 427-4626 or (314) 421-4636.