County celebrates measurable results of United Way 211 helpline

GURNEE – United Way of Lake County marked the first anniversary of 211 services for Lake County on Oct. 27 with a 90-minute virtual event targeted to key stakeholders, partners and community leaders.

The event highlighted 211’s measurable year-one results and impact, including how the system has transformed the way individuals and families in Lake County are connecting to essential health and human services.

The free, confidential, multi-lingual, 24-hour information and referral helpline was launched Sept. 24, 2019, by United Way of Lake County in collaboration with the county and many community partners.

Through 2019, more than 95% of the U.S., but less than 30% of Illinois, had access to 211. Lake County is the largest county in Illinois to have implemented 211.

“We may be late to the party, but we are making a tremendous impact in just one year,” said Marc Jones, director of Waukegan Township’s Eddie Washington Center, who served as host and moderator for the event.

A panel of Lake County human services experts discussed how 211 more efficiently connects people in need to a wide range of available resources to improve and save lives. The panel included Demar Harris, director of programs and EEO Officers for Lake County Workforce Development; Sam Johnson-Maurello, director of behavioral health for Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center; Brenda O’Connell, community development administrator for Lake County Government; Dulce Ortiz, executive director of Mano a Mano Family Resource Center; and Carmen Patlan, executive director of Highwood Public Library.

In its first year of service, 211 has made a combined total of 56,423 connections, including 6,760 calls and texts to the 211 contact center and 49,663 visits to the 211LakeCounty.org website.

Within the first full month of service, the number of calls and texts to 211 quickly grew to more than 400. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number nearly doubled, increasing by 92% from February to March. 211 could not have come to Lake County at a better time. Since March, 53% of the calls and texts have been related to COVID-19.

211 reporting shows that calls and texts have been received from every ZIP code in Lake County. The Waukegan community represents a significant portion of the 211 contacts at 33%, with Zion at 9% and Round Lake at 8%.

The top needs presented have been housing and shelter, utilities, food, mental health and addictions, health care, and employment and income support. Housing and shelter is by far the top category month to month with rent assistance consistently ranked as the top housing need. Lake County has responded by increasing funding for rent assistance through the COVID Housing Relief Program. 211 is centralizing and streamlining the rental assistance screening process to make it easier for individuals and families facing financial hardship to access resources.

“Now our community knows what 211 is. Now they can access the help they need. Now they have hope when times are tough,” said Kristi Long, president and CEO of United Way of Lake County.

To access 211, simply call 211 or text your ZIP code to 898211. Resource navigators at the 211 contact center, who are experienced, trained specialists, will guide people to the help they need. The comprehensive 211 service is multi-lingual with English-and-Spanish speaking staff, as well as interpretations to more than 150 languages.

To learn more about United Way of Lake County’s 211, visit 211LakeCounty.org.