211 Helpline fields 153,072 calls last year to help those in need find aid agencies
BY MIKE AVERILL World Staff Writer
Friday, February 08, 2013
2/08/13 at 8:39 AM
When Robin Tobler needed help paying the past-due amount on her electric bill so she could move into a new place, her case manager suggested that she call 211, where she was directed to The Salvation Army's Center of Hope.
"211 was very helpful," Tobler said. "They made it easier to try and get help."
The Helpline made 12,351 referrals to the Center of Hope, the most to any agency, last year.
In total, 153,072 calls were made to the Helpline last year, a 1 percent increase over the previous year. It marked the third year in a row the agency has seen diminishing growth. In previous years, Helpline saw increases of as much as 24 percent to 34 percent.
Jim Lyall, associate director for the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa, said it's not that the need is slowing but that the agency is at capacity without additional funding.
"If we could add staffing, we could increase the call volume," he said.
Lyall added that he doesn't want the Helpline to lose sight of the importance of providing quality service to the callers.
"We tried to place a lot of emphasis with our staff on not rushing the call and not trying to set records of call volume," he said. "Instead, we're placing the emphasis on the assessment and quality of referrals, essentially preparing the callers for the best possible interaction with the agencies."
Basic needs - housing, food and clothing - accounted for the majority of the calls with 40.3 percent, a number that stays steady, said Donnie House, 211's service manager.
"It has to do with people's primary needs," she said. "Assistance with housing expenses is always at the top."
Neighbor for Neighbor is another agency that receives a large number of referrals. Last year it received 12,038.
"That's because they not only have basic needs assistance, but they have a medical clinic and legal needs assistance, as well," House said.
Lyall said funding is a continuing concern and that the agency is focused on finding and creating new revenue streams.
"We're very pleased that we had an increase in one of our long-time support foundations, and we did for the first time get a grant from the Sarkeys Foundation," he said. "We have to continue seeking new funding. We have to continue to be as innovative as we can because there's only so much foundation money."
The agency also received its first Community Development Block Grants through the city of Tulsa.
"That's significant because more than 70 percent of our calls are Tulsa County residents," House said. "I think the funders are recognizing the value of 211's service to the whole social service delivery system. That it makes the other projects they're funding more efficient and effective."
The Helpline is also seeing increases in the number of searches of its online database, which was launched in 2011.
"That's available to the public or for other agencies, case managers and helping professionals. That's just another way people can get access to services by going online," House said.
She said she expects the numbers to be similar this year to last year.
For 211, "there comes a point where it's well-known, and unless there is some triggering event, we'd expect to see some stabilization," she said.
Since its start in 2005, Helpline's call volume has grown 205 percent. It doubled in its first month alone.
"We were not prepared for that," Lyall said. "That was a difficult time for us because we would have liked to come to activation with a greater amount of readiness.
"We've never looked back and regretted," he said. "We just realized that the call volume was going to grow, and we were going to have to grow with it."
211's top 10 in 2012
Agency|| Number of referrals|
Salvation Army Center of Hope||12,351|
Neighbor for Neighbor||12,038|
Helping Hands Ministry||11,749|
Department of Human Services||10,586|
First Baptist Church of Tulsa||7,265|
Free Directory Assistance||6,411|
Restore Hope Ministries||6,107|
John 3:16 Mission||5,727|
City of Tulsa||5,510|
Source: Community Service Council of Tulsa
Original Print Headline: Help for finding help
Mike Averill 918-581-8489
Robin Tobler applies for help with a utility bill last week at The Salvation Army's Center of Hope. The agency frequently gets referrals from the 211 Helpline. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Volunteer Rick Fleming helps a woman apply for assistance at The Salvation Army's Center of Hope. The agency received more than 12,000 referrals from 211 last year. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World