The 211 Referral service is a phone number to call for information about services available in your community for those in need. There is usually a corresponding website that people may also use to find this information. The program is spearheaded by United Way in partnership with other agencies.
As the program has evolved it has grown to encompass many aspects of life. It is not limited to helping with homelessness issues, but also with services like financial stability, tax preparation, health care, education and employment.
Although 211 service is widely advertised in the homeless community, the truth is it provides almost no real help for the homeless. Often a homeless person will call the 211 number only to be referred back to shelter they are making the call from. Once a person becomes homeless it doesn’t take long for him/her to learn of all the services available. So a call to 211 after becoming homeless will usually serve no purpose.
The real benefit of the 211 referral service is in homeless prevention. If a person calls 211 at the first notion that they might become homeless, they might receive the information necessary to stave off homelessness. So, make the call as soon as possible. Once the snowball of potential homelessness starts rolling, it might grow to big and too fast to stop. For those who are already homeless, their best bet is to acquire the services of a case manager.