The hundreds of sources for emergency food, shelter and financial help in Utah became just a three-digit phone call away Tuesday evening as the new 211 Information and Referral service went online.
Just as dialing 911 offers a direct connection to emergency services, the new 211 service is part of a national effort to similarly link all community services.
Plenty of crisis services are available in Utah, but people looking for help have faced the daunting task of figuring out who to call for help, said Josh Pedersen, director of the service. Although the referral center has provided residents with programs and information listings for 26 years, people can now call 211 to find exactly which agency can provide the best service, Pedersen said.
Shortly after the service went online Tuesday, two families needing help paying utility bills called, another called about shelter options, and there was a call from someone needing help with how to do a résumé.
The referral center averages about 200 calls per day, Pedersen said, adding that the regular seven-digit number, 887-1237, will remain open.
Volunteers and donors looking to donate their time and resources can also use the 211 service to contact community service agencies.
The center can answer requests in up to 140 languages and is available by phone Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The service is available in Salt Lake, Tooele and Summit counties. The rest of the state will be included in the near future, with Utah, Davis and Weber counties to be added shortly after the Olympics.
The change is meant to offer people an easily remembered number should they find themselves suddenly in need of food or shelter, Pedersen said.
In July 2000, the Federal Communications Commission approved using 211 for a nationwide information and referral service.
The referral center also on Tuesday placed online its human service directory. It is a standard reference guide used among virtually every private non-profit and public human service agency in the state. The directory is available on the Internet at www.informationandreferral.org.
Donations from Salt Lake County, the state Department of Workforce Services and the state Office of the Chief Information Officer and Utah Interactive Inc. are paying for the new number and directory.