Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Like other three-digit phone numbers, 211 gets callers immediate assistance. 211 provides help for people in crises such as needing housing or job assistance.

The service is offered nationwide through United Way, and the local San Benito County office has provided services to residents since 2014. By simply dialing 211 or reaching out online, callers can get information on emergency housing, utility assistance, health and human services, behavioral health, natural disasters, human trafficking, reentry following incarceration, jobs and unemployment, and veterans’ assistance. 

“We provide service in over 150 languages,” said Vicki Fortino, director of United Way of San Benito County.

Most of the help provided to San Benito residents relates to housing, ranging from helping locate available units, making rent payments and taking care of utilities, Fortino said. Calls received outside of business hours are handled by emergency services such as 911 or are relayed to the office the next business day. 

Calls from San Benito County are routed to the Ventura 211 service, said Fortino, where operators “are trained to ask the right questions.” She said they know how to engage the caller to find out as much as they can to help.

For example, if a caller seeks help with paying a utility bill, the operator can ask about employment and other needs, such as food and housing.

This is in line with United Way’s national statement regarding 211: “211 does more than ‘patch people through’ to agencies. Instead, 211 specialists are trained to identify and address root causes of a client’s problem—and connect them with a wide range of available resources that meet all the underlying needs, not just the one that prompted the call, text or email.”  

211 also provides real-time disaster information. By texting to request service, locals can be alerted during emergencies. To request this service, dial 898-211 and when prompted follow up with your zip code. 

“We connect our residents with health and human services immediately,” Fortino said. “We can text real-time information on roads and bridges where you are, where your kids are.”


Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College and she reports on science and the environment....