LAKE CHARLES, LA, – The 211 Resource Line for Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jefferson Davis parishes is funded by United Way of Southwest Louisiana each year. The overall usage for 2020 shows a 284% increase with 69,266 users. 211 phone calls alone increased 439%, with the heaviest use from August to October during the direct hits from Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta.
"The data showed most people prefer to speak with our specialists over the phone instead of texting or searching online, and that is our preference as well," explained Denise Durel, President and CEO of United Way of Southwest Louisiana. "Our 211 Specialists are trained to listen and identify other things someone may need. They can also transfer calls to licensed counselors if someone needs help. We do make the texting and online search available as well."
In 2020, new messages were adapted quickly for community partners such as the Louisiana Department of Health, State of Louisiana, City of Lake Charles and Calcasieu Parish Police Jury to meet the continuing needs caused by multiple federally declared natural disasters. Important social service and health messages related to the COVID-19 global pandemic, hurricanes and flooding kept community members in the five parishes informed and even allowed them to sign up for safety-net services or receive rides for evacuation.
211's volume began to increase in January with individuals setting up appointments for United Way of Southwest Louisiana's free tax preparation initiative called VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance). The growth continued through March as massive layoffs from the pandemic caused food shortages and fears of homelessness. 211 partners leaned heavily on the system to distribute testing sites, medical information and other important COVID-19 messages.
Records show a lull in May with numbers typical of early summer but quickly rise in June and July as families attempt to prepare for what was predicted to be a busy hurricane season.
The almost meteoric rise in usage came from August to October, with the peak time being September. Before Hurricane Laura making landfall, 211 was assisting with shelter and evacuation for low-income individuals and the homeless. 211 readied messages around the clock for food, shelter and transportation following the storm. Even a year after the devastating hurricanes, 211 continues to coordinate the requests for property repair assistance from homeowners affected by Hurricanes Laura and Delta who were uninsured or under-insured. Southwest Louisiana VOAD member organizations volunteering in the region can reach out if they can offer help.
"Some families feel evacuating is a luxury," explains Denise Durel. "They do not have access to cash for hotels and eating out. Their vehicle cannot take the stress of sitting in traffic for half a day, and if it breaks down, it's very likely they have no way to get it back home."
"Each year, our top three requests are housing, utilities and food," says Durel. "Last year was no exception, but what continues to complicate things today is the lack of viable, affordable housing for low-income workers following the two hurricanes and multiple flooding events of the past year. 211 gives United Way valuable insight into what is happening in the community, and housing is our most pressing issue today."
United Way of Southwest Louisiana retains a dedicated team member ready to update the 211 database of resources 24/7/365 with the menu of services available for the community. The resources can be as simple as utility payment assistance or job training and even foster parent information from the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.
211 allows United Way of Southwest Louisiana to stay focused on what the needs are in the community. When those requests change over time, resources can quickly change course in response. The capacity to address a swiftly focused manner allows for long-range planning for some of our most challenging problems.
Individuals can access free and confidential crisis and emergency counseling, healthcare, childcare, job training and many other types of support 24/7/365 from live specialists by calling 211, texting your zip code to 898-211 or going online to www.unitedwayswla.org/211.
If your company or organization is interested in sponsoring 211, contact United Way of Southwest Louisiana for a package to meet your needs.