Tuesday, Feb. 11 — 2/11 — is 2-1-1 Awareness Day. It’s part of a national initiative seeking to generate awareness of the 2-1-1 phone system that connects callers to resources on just about anything that is available in the five county Palm Beach and Treasure Coast area.
Part of 16 such local systems in Florida, it covers Palm Beach County as well as Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties. The program started as a crisis management program, but now also branches out into a wide array of government services.
For example, the suicide prevention hotline rings there. Veterans services for veterans and their families can be helped by knowledgeable veterans staffing those lines, children’s services, special needs services, elder services and much more are available. Just dial 2-1-1. The number is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so it is there even if a person merely needs to talk to someone.
“We are doing proclamations at more than 90 municipalities in the area to build awareness of the 2-1-1 program,” Community Relations Specialist Patrice Schroeder said.
Randee Gabriel, a program manager with 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast, gave one such presentation at a recent Wellington Village Council meeting, saying that awareness of the existence of the resource line is critical.
Mayor Anne Gerwig agreed, noting that she was with a group recently when a person asked about available resources.
“Three people said simultaneously, ‘2-1-1,’” she recalled.
Gabriel and Schroeder are hoping that the next time such a situation occurs, even more than three will know about the resource line that helps people find important information.
“There is phone triage, so the caller presses a button to be directed immediately to the right line. That way, we don’t have a veteran or someone who is suicidal waiting behind a person seeking information on childcare in their neighborhood,” Schroeder explained.
Schroeder continued that the mission of 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast is to connect people to services 24 hours a day by understanding their individual emotional, financial and community needs, and to provide support for the health and human services system as a whole.
The organization is operated by a private nonprofit started 49 years ago in Palm Beach County as a drug hotline. It quickly expanded into crisis counseling and suicide prevention to provide information and referral services to support a quality, centralized access point for health, human and crisis services.
At the turn of the 21st century the three-digit dialing code 2-1-1 was designated nationally by the Federal Communications Commission for information and referral purposes, and to help protect the integrity of the 9-1-1 emergency-only system.
211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast has long been the designated agency to answer all local calls dialed into the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It also answers the Rape Crisis Helpline and Violent Crime Helpline as well.
Five other key programs are the focus of the organization, although it offers information on many other topics:
• Elder Crisis Outreach has been in operation for some 30 years providing vulnerable, distressed senior citizens in Palm Beach County with intensive, short-term support in navigating the sometimes-overwhelming health and human services system.
• A program serving as the centralized access point for families of children, from birth to age 22, with special needs assists parents and caregivers in finding much-needed information and resources in Palm Beach County.
• The Help Me Grow program provides information and advice to parents who are concerned about their children under age eight. Physical or emotional development, behavior or learning can be screened via telephone, and referrals, care coordination and follow-up can be provided. “A 45-minute, over-the-phone screening might detect a situation early and lead to catching them as early as possible, and we can get them engaged with the providers and take it to the next level,” Schroeder said. “It’s a great way to capture those kids who might go unnoticed.”
• A primarily volunteer-based service going back more than three decades is the Sunshine Telephone Reassurance program that contacts some 500 elderly and homebound clients throughout the five-county service area. The daily, reassuring phone call to check on their well-being is frequently the only outside contact the client will have all day. Schroeder said that about 10 wellness checks a year have led to responders interceding to save an elderly person from a life-threatening situation.
• 211 My Florida Vet is the connection that provides Florida veterans with access to mental health and substance abuse services. It also supports veterans recovering from mental health conditions. “The phone lines are staffed with vets, sometimes locals to provide peer-to-peer information,” Schroeder said.
Fielding some 88,000 communications a year, about 250 on an average day, the organization works with a $2.8 million budget and is proud that less than 12 percent is used for overhead and administrative support and not part of direct services.
Communication with the service can be through voice for telephone or chat and text messaging functions.
In addition to the organization’s high level of expertise and track record of quality service, it is cost-effective and more efficient to have one organization with the responsibility for maintaining the community resource database for all to use.
“I can’t always guarantee that there will be a resource,” Schroeder said. “If there is one, we can connect you to it.”
She also asked that people become aware of the number so they can tell a friend whenever the need arises.
Want to learn more? You can visit www.211palmbeach.org, or just dial 2-1-1.