Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Carmel on the Case: 2-1-1
These are tough economic times, with more people than ever desperately in need of help with the basics, like food to eat and a place to stay. What you may not know is a simple telephone number can lead to answers for the most complicated of problems. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case with the 4-1-1 about a little-known service called "2-1-1."
WSVN -- When this 10-year-old autistic child was dumped at a hospital earlier this month, South Florida was stunned.
His mother later explained, she was desperate.
Amanda Mathe, Mother: "I didn't know what to do. I was evicted. I had to get out of my place yesterday."
If she had dialed 2-1-1 first, she would have reached experts ready, willing and able to help her with suggestions about what to do.
Counselor: "Hello, how can I help you?"
In Broward, dialing 2-1-1 brings you into this room.
Here, trained counselors are available every day, 24/7.
Counselor: "Are you familiar with the food summer program for the children?"
They have access to more than 4,000 programs that can help us deal with life's bumps in the road.
Counselor: "I can tell you about a few different programs that may help you out with your rent."
Counselor: "So you're really struggling and just want a place where you can rest?"
Counselor: "So they might be able to advocate for you and help you out with that situation."
There are 2-1-1 systems in about 80 percent of the U.S., including Miami-Dade and Broward.
Yet it is not a well-known number.
Carmel Cafiero: "Why do you think that is?"
Sheila Smith, CEO, 211 Broward: "I'm not entirely sure. We're really trying very hard to work on that."
Don King found 2-1-1, although he says many of his friends and family were unaware it exists, and through it found help for his 3-year-old son Devon, who has Down syndrome.
He says 2-1-1 provided what you might call a "roadmap of resources" for the family.
Don King, Helped by 2-1-1: "They've led us through this whole thing and got us where we are today, where my child is in a very good school for exceptional children."
Counselor: "Thank you for calling 2-1-1 Broward."
And even though most people don't know about this service, Broward calls have topped 100,000 in each of the last three years.
Sheila Smith, CEO, 211 Broward: "And just to give you an idea of how that's changed, five years ago, we were taking 60,000 calls. And certainly when the economy started to deteriorate, the call volume started to increase pretty substantially."
And more than half of those calls deal with basic needs, like food and shelter.
Carmel Cafiero, Investigative Reporter: "You'll find camps like this one, hidden all over South Florida. Often deserted during the day, they are home to the homeless at night."
And now, the homeless include former members of the middle class who have lost their jobs and then lost everything else.
Sheila Smith, CEO, 211 Broward: "They are people who donated to charity all of their lives, and now for the first time are having to reach out for help."
And 2-1-1 knows where the help can be found.
Counselor: "How are you today?"
Counselors even reach out to seniors with daily phone calls.
Counselor: "Oh, you're achy today?"
Francisco Isaza, 2-1-1 Program Director: "It's one of the most heartwarming services that we have at 2-1-1, where we connect with these seniors, and we become their friends and family."
So make a note of the number and save it: 2-1-1.
If you need help, don't wait: Call.
No matter your challenges, it can help make lives better.
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