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What is 211? Your guide for when to call the non-emergency helpline

This phone number can connect you with community and government agencies for a variety of services

What is 211? | What is 211 used for? | 211 for health care | Additional hotlines | COVID-19 resources | Financial assistance | Health insurance resources | Food assistance

“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.

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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.

Additional resources

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.

Hotlines

  • 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

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COVID-19 pandemic-related resources

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Assistance with paying bills

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Health insurance resources

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Food assistance