Mayor Sullivan signed an Executive Proclamation making February 11, 2013 Alaska 2-1-1 Day.
Since its start in 2007, Alaska 2-1-1, operated by United Way of Anchorage, has handled over 86,000 calls and made more than 101,000 referrals connecting Alaskans to needed services. Before Alaska 2-1-1, there was no single comprehensive statewide system for health and human services information and referrals. Today, no matter where you live in Alaska, help is just a phone call away.
Getting help to make ends meet was the top priority during 2012. Over 34% of all calls made from around the state were for basic needs like rent/utility assistance, food and housing. That’s double the calls for basic needs in 2009. In Anchorage alone, basic needs referrals increased 57.4% in the last year.
The Mayor’s proclamation cites Alaska 2-1-1 as the comprehensive portal for the entire health and human services delivery system, and is an integral, efficient, effective and accurate way to ensure that the right services are provided to the right people at the right time.
In 2012, 38% of the more than 18,000 calls came from Anchorage residents seeking help connecting with supports and financial assistance for basic needs like housing, food and utilities while 20% of callers looked for job training and career development resources to help them get back to work and sought income tax preparation assistance to help them maximize tax refunds.
The stories behind the numbers are just as powerful says Anchorage 2-1-1 Call Center Director, Karen Bitzer, “In January, a Wasilla fire dispatcher was driving to work when she came across a young woman standing on the side of the road with a sign for help. Turned out the woman has been staying with a friend, but the friend wanted her to leave and to make matters worse, her car had just been stolen. The dispatcher didn’t have any cash to offer, but she gave her an Alaska 2-1-1 card and then offered her a cell phone so that she could make the call. After a few moments, the woman hung up and started crying. Alaska 2-1-1 was able to connect the woman to available resources and had gotten the help and support she needed.”
“Alaska 2-1-1 continues to reflect the uncertainty of the times,” said Michele Brown, President of United Way of Anchorage. “Thankfully, when so many Alaskans are facing challenges, they have somewhere to turn for help. But there are still many Alaskans who’ve never had to ask for help before, and who don’t know about Alaska 2-1-1. Mayor Sullivan’s continued support of Alaska 2-1-1 will go a long way ‘to encourage individuals, community service providers and public officials to raise awareness and utilize the Alaska 2-1-1 information and referral services’.”
Alaska 2-1-1 maintains the most comprehensive community services database in the state. In addition to helping Alaskans find help, Alaska 2-1-1 tracks the type of information callers are looking for and referrals that are made. This generates another kind of database: one that serves as a gauge of the needs present in the state – a social barometer of sorts – tracking needs and trends in real time.
“We see need going up, and the resources and services necessary to meet those needs going down,” said Brown. “At United Way, we use this data to drive new actions, especially in the area of keeping families housed, warm and fed, and avoiding homelessness. Our recent Walk for Warmth event was an example of how we raised awareness of an issue and called the community together to help address it.”
Family financial stability is the anchor for a strong community. February spotlights United Way’s focus, with your help, to shore up struggling families. We do this by boosting income supports, providing financial management tools, connecting people with the help they need, and reporting current community data and trends so we can act quickly.
Alaskans seeking help can speak directly with a trained information and referral specialist by dialing 2-1-1 or 1-800-478-2221 from 8:30am to 5:00pm Monday through Friday. Alaska 2-1-1 website is available 24/7 at www.alaska211.org.