The United Way announced a more “holistic” way to assist PA 2-1-1 Southwest callers Tuesday.
PA 2-1-1 is a free human service helpline that connects Pennsylvanians with basic needs such as utilities, housing, employment and food. It also helps connect people to agencies that can answer questions about the Affordable Care Act or help with free tax preparation.
Bob Nelkin, United Way of Allegheny County president, said people who call 2-1-1 need help navigating what he called a “confusing maze.”
“Everyone knows there are so many phone numbers and acronyms and agency names and eligibility criteria,” Nelkin said. “And 2-1-1, you simply call these three numbers, from any phone, you get connected with a United Way operator who helps you navigate the system and get real help.”
With the help of a three-year anchor commitment from Peoples Natural Gas, the helpline is going a step further.
“With this new assistance from Peoples Natural Gas we’re going to be able to go deeper and ask, ‘you know you may be calling about how to keep the utilities on, but are there some other needs that you have?’” Nelkin said. “‘And again how do we help you increase your income and reduce your expenses and be able to meet your basic need.’”
For example, Nelkin cited someone who calls 2-1-1 for help keeping his or her utility service on.
He said United Way’s operators will now help the callers address their “bigger problems.”
“The person who has a problem paying their utility bill probably also is challenged paying their rent or their mortgage, putting food on the table, dealing with transportation costs and other expenses that they have,” Nelkin said. “And so this will be a more holistic way at helping people in need.”
PA 2-1-1 has helped over 114,000 callers since it began in 2011, and its call volume increased by more than 100 percent in 2013 with 56,714 calls.
Nelkin hopes Peoples Natural Gas’s corporate support will help them answer even more calls.
“The way that Peoples has informed us that they’re gong to provide enough support that we’re going to be able to expand from the roughly 70,000 callers that we’re expecting to serve to another 40,000 people calling the 2-1-1 helpline,” Nelkin said.
PA 2-1-1 is now fully operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week in 11 counties.