“Call 911!” Chances are you have heard, needed, or even yelled those words at some point in your life. 911 is an emergency telephone number in North America that works to quickly send out emergency responders: police, fire, or emergency medical personnel.
However, you might not have heard about 211—a non-emergency referral service for statewide, nationwide, and community services. While you probably don’t use 911 regularly, 211 has information you can utilize in your everyday life, such as accessing affordable healthcare or finding a COVID vaccine provider near you.
What is 211?
The dialing code 211 connects individuals and families in need with community and government agencies that can help. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Organizations such as United Way, Goodwill, Community Action Partnerships, and local crisis centers operate more than 200 centers across the United States that handle more than 14 million requests for help each year. The service covers all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the FCC. In fact, more than 309 million people have access to 211.
Local or regional calling centers receive your call, and resource specialists access extensive databases with information on private and public services and agencies. According to the FCC, specialists match the caller with essential community services based on individual concerns. It is different than 911 or 311. We use 911 for emergencies, and 311 (where available) is intended to handle non-emergency calls, such as noise complaints, dangerous animal complaints, broken traffic signals, and abandoned vehicles. 311 is available in around 100 locales around the country.
You can reach a 211 center in several ways:
- Dial 211 from either a landline or cell phone.
- Text your five-digit zip code to 898211.
- Visit 211.org online.
- Download the 211 app for your area.
What would you call 211 for?
The 211 call centers have comprehensive health and human services information and resources. The most common requests 211 specialists receive are from people looking for help paying housing and utility bills. However, 211 handles referrals for many different issues, such as:
- Financial needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, rent, and utility assistance
- Health resources, such as information on health insurance programs, Medicaid, Medicare, medical intervention hotlines, children and maternal health care, counseling, drug and alcohol programs, and crisis intervention services
- Support for older Americans and people with disabilities, such as community meal services, respite care, home health care, and transportation to medical appointments
- Employment services, such as job training, applying for unemployment, education programs, and transportation assistance to job interviews
- Children and youth services, such as childcare, after school programs, educational assistance, summer camps, and tutoring
- Mental health and suicide prevention, such as regional or national hotlines, community clinics, and other community mental health resources
“211 continues to field calls and inquiries for information and resources from those impacted by COVID,” says Christine Spanier, the vice president of marketing and communications at the United Way of Berks County in Pennsylvania. “The top inquiries include information around food, house, and utility assistance.”
211 for health care
Healthcare costs in the United States are one of the top reasons people forego medical care. More than 32 million people do not have health insurance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Through 211, people are able to find out about resources that may help with these costs; however, it is not a hotline.
Specialists can “help callers access programs like the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Medicaid,” explains Anthony Salvatore, the director of development at Montgomery County Emergency Services in Pennsylvania. “It is not a crisis or suicide hotline…The 211 specialists try to connect a caller in crisis to a crisis center in their area or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Veteran’s Crisis Line, or another appropriate 24/7 emergency service.”
Some healthcare concerns 211 resource specialists can help locate resources for include:
- Access to affordable healthcare including locating clinics that are free, low-cost, or work on a sliding scale
- Lower cost mental health and counseling options
- Programs to provide financial assistance to pay medical bills
- Transportation services to help individuals get medical treatment
- Information on local agencies that can assist in prescription costs or pharmaceutical programs for medication assistance
- Services for substance abuse, including counseling and treatment programs
The operators at 211 may also refer callers to the SAMHSA National Helpline to answer the callers’ questions on medical conditions, including substance abuse disorders, or to help in navigating treatment options.
When you call 211, you might receive a mixture of national and local or community resources. Specialists have an extensive, inclusive database to research resources and nonprofits that will best fit your situation. Local resources can include food banks, homeless shelters, financial assistance programs, medical clinics, agencies with individual grants for energy bills, rental assistance, and help with clothing.
Some of the nationwide resources you could receive include the following hotlines, COVID-19 pandemic-related resources, assistance with paying bills, health insurance resources, or food assistance.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Love Is Respect (Dating abuse and domestic violence) – 1-866-331-9474
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- The Trevor Project (Support for the LGBTQ young adult community) – 1-866-488-7386
- The Trans Lifeline – 1-877-565-8860
- National Eating Disorder Association – 1-800-931-2237
- Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741-741
- Mental Illness Hotline – 1-800-950-6264
- Sexual Abuse Hotline – 1-800-656-4673
- Veteran’s Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255
- Childhelp – 1-800-4ACHILD (224453)
- National Parent Helpline – 1-855-4APARENT (2727368)
- National Human Trafficking Hotline – 1-888-373-7888
COVID-19 pandemic-related resources
- Understanding COVID, CDC
- Information on COVID vaccine, CDC
- Vaccines.gov – Find a vaccine near you
- Pew Charitable Trust Tool for searchable information about evictions and rent protections
Assistance with paying bills
- Government Benefit Finder — Find out the benefits you might be eligible to use.
- NoRent.org — Free tool to help write a letter to your landlord to request help paying or delaying rent
- Rental assistance, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Avoiding foreclosure, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) — Help with heating and cooling energy costs, weatherization, and energy-related home repairs.
Health insurance resources
- Affordable Care Act Health Marketplace (ACT) – Information on eligibility and health insurance plans as well as application to apply for coverage and assistance for health insurance
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – Health insurance for children in families who do not qualify for either Medicaid or insurance through the ACA
- Understanding COBRA – COBRA allows workers who have lost or left their jobs the opportunity to continue their coverage
- SingleCare Prescription Savings Card – Use this free card to find prescription medication at discounted prices
- RxAssist – Comprehensive database of patient assistance programs
- Medical Clinic Search – Find no-cost, low-cost, or clinics that operate on a sliding scale based on income
- Open Path Psychotherapy Collective – A membership organization ($59/lifetime) that provides discounted therapy sessions for between $30 and $60 per session
- Mental Health America – An online resource to help you identify the right treatment plan
RELATED: How to get health insurance
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – Government-based financial assistance for food
- Fresh EBT – SNAP recipients can check SNAP balance
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – provides additional assistance for women, infants, and children up to age 5 with supplemental healthy food, nutrition education, and health care referrals