Step-by-step: How 211 works
While Midland county juggles two community crisis at once dispatchers at 211 Northeast Michigan are directing people to potentially life-saving resources. Behind the scenes, 211 has many moving parts and protocols to make sure people get the help they need.
Executive Director of 211 Northeast Michigan Sarah Kile said 211 is the simplest way to be directed to the organizations that can help change people’s lives.
Step 1: Seeking help
Anyone in Midland and the 22 other counties 211 serves can seek out the service. Kile said recent calls have mostly been requesting disaster relief organizations but 211 has a plethora of resources for any situation. There are organizations for substance abuse, food insecurity, bill payment and more.
“With the floods in Midland and Gladwin and with COVID, people still have their own crisis,” Kile said. “When there’s no food in your cupboard for your kids, that’s a crisis. Being able to navigate where to go – It’s the simplest process to pick up the phone and dial 211.”
Step 2: Calling 211
Simply dial 211 on your phone to be connected to an operator. Alternatively, you can text your zip code to 211 or live chat with dispatchers on the 211website.
The 211 website is also home to the community resource directory, which is used to navigate all 7,000 agencies in the database.
Kile said 211 takes around 150-200 calls on a normal day. At the height of the flood response they took over 300.
Step 3: Speaking to a 211 operator
After dialing 211, a computer will ask for language preferences and a zip code. From there you’ll be delivered to one of seven call centers in Michigan.
In most situations, anyone who calls 211 will be connected to a real person after entering a zip code. Because of the influx of calls after the flood crisis Kile said automated self-service directories were installed but the option to speak to an operator is still available.
All 211 operators are trained to take calls for about a month. Afterwards, the staff move towards national accreditation.
“Our goal is to answer those calls as soon as possible,” Kile said. “Being an operator is a highly skilled position… Quality of our employees is part of our DNA.”
Step 4: Gathering information
Kile said 211 has a commitment to confidentiality, therefore the organization has boiled it down to only the most essential questions that will help match callers to the ideal organization.
“The questions that we try to ask our callers include; does anyone in the household have a disability? Is anyone over the age of 60? Are there any veterans in the household? This is because there are so many great resources that serve just those populations,” Kile said.
Next, the operator does a deep dive through the 211 databases to connect the caller to an organization that best serves their needs.
Step 6: Follow-up
In most cases, the next step is up to the caller to reach out and participate in the resources 211 recommends. In certain instances of health and safety 211 operators will request to follow-up to make sure the caller got the help that they needed.
“The creed of 211 is to offer confidentiality because it’s so hard to ask for help.” Kile said. “Oftentimes people are calling us on the worst days of their lives. We don’t want people to feel like someone is tracking them, we don’t follow-up with people in our database without their permission.”
211 is an organization that connects people to other organizations and resources that can help with needs, such as food, housing, shelter and more. For more information or help, dial 2-1-1 on your phone, text your zip code to 211, or visit https://www.211nemichigan.org/ to chat with someone online or browse local resources.
Editor's note: This article is the second installment of a weekly, local impact campaign the Midland Daily News is launching in partnership with 211 Northeast Michigan to raise awareness and provide continuing education about this vital service.