The 211 Metro Chicago contact center is calm, almost peaceful. The 2-1-1 team is anything but idle, though. Each Resource Navigator keeps their voice low so their colleagues in cubicles nearby can field calls without distraction. They’re patient and poised as they listen to someone on the other end of the line tell them about recent challenges – and what they need.
A senior citizen looking for affordable dental care. A teenager who is hungry. A father seeking safe and warm shelter for his family. Desni Holmes, a 2-1-1 Resource Navigator, recently answered this call and listened as the father asked for help. After searching the 2-1-1 database for a resource that matched his needs, Desni shared details about a local organization that provides stable housing – but he needed to call now, before the organization closed for the day.
Desni called the father back a few months later. She was thrilled to hear he had contacted the referral organization just in time, she said. “When I did the follow-up call, they had just moved into their new place. We were able to connect him with resources that allowed him and his family to both solve immediate issues and get them back on stable footing.”
This was one of thousands of calls made to 211 Metro Chicago over the last year. Since United Way of Metro Chicago launched 2-1-1 on January 27, 2023, in partnership with the City of Chicago and Cook County, the 24/7 helpline has made a significant impact. 2-1-1 has surpassed 100,000 contacts, including calls, texts, and web chats, connecting our neighbors in Cook County with critical health and social services.
211 Metro Chicago was a decade in the making. The need for a centralized 24/7 health and social service helpline was significant, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Richard LaPratt, executive director of 211 Metro Chicago. “The pandemic showed that awareness of and access to social services was extremely limited in Cook County, with residents unsure where to turn as they struggled to find health care resources, support with household bills, or food to feed their families.”
United Way of Metro Chicago responded to the need, working closely with the City of Chicago, Cook County, and other key philanthropic and corporate partners to launch 211 Metro Chicago. In the first year of operation, we’re seeing significant impact as 2-1-1 is reducing barriers and getting residents the help they need, Richard said. “I see the benefit 2-1-1 is having and understand now more than ever the unique nature of the needs facing Chicagoans and Cook County residents.”
“We are seeing significant asks for housing and food security, but the issues that follow run the gamut of utility payment assistance, mental health and substance use treatment, and employment,” Richard said.
Thresholds is one of our partner referral agencies that provides supportive services for many of these issues, including mental illness and substance use disorders, and is one of thousands of local organizations and resources in the 2-1-1 database. They see firsthand the impact 2-1-1 is having – and how it’s helping their clients navigate an otherwise complicated system of social services, said Emily Moen, vice president of public relations and marketing for Thresholds.
“People in need of social services often spend an enormous amount of their time trying to navigate the system. 2-1-1 reduces the time to seek needed services and provides the benefits they need to move forward,” Emily said.
Thresholds’ clinicians also use 2-1-1 to better support their clients who they often meet in their residences, in hospitals, or on the street and need help finding resources like food or health care near them. “2-1-1 is a valuable tool for our clinicians to help their clients troubleshoot unique situations because every single case is different. Because we’re out in the field, it’s really important to have easy-to-access resources,” Emily said.
Thresholds also serves on the advisory board for 211 Metro Chicago, guiding the growth and future of the helpline. Just last week, the City of Chicago’s existing Homelessness Prevention Contact Center was integrated with 211 Metro Chicago so our Resource Navigators can better support residents with housing assistance and prevent homelessness.
We’re also gearing up for tax season. 211 Metro Chicago will be a point of contact for those seeking help with their taxes. Offered through the City of Chicago, and their nonprofit partner LadderUp, residents can contact 2-1-1 to get connected to free tax preparation and find a site near them.
As we celebrate one year of 211 Metro Chicago, we celebrate one year of connecting thousands of residents to services. None of this would be possible without our generous partners, who, together with United Way of Metro Chicago, have made this invaluable resource a reality in Cook County.
Together, we are committed to supporting our neighbors’ basic needs – and continuing to grow and reach even more of our neighbors in the year ahead.