Bay Area’s 211 call service expands to seven counties

The United Way of the Bay Area’s 211 program, a call-center program that links local residents with health and human service agencies, will expand its coverage from three Bay Area counties to seven, according to the organization’s officials.

Already present in San Francisco, Santa Clara and Alameda counties, the call service will now include coverage in Marin, Napa, Contra Costa and Solano counties, United Way spokeswoman Maria Stokes said. The formal expansion will start Monday — or 2/11.

The United Way first introduced the 211 program to the Bay Area in March 2006 in San Francisco. According to Stokes, the average rate of monthly callers using the service has grown from a “couple of hundred” during the program’s initial stage.

Stokes attributes the service’s growth to personal relationships developed between callers and representatives.

“Every time someone calls they’re hearing a live person’s voice, and I think that’s important,” Stokes said. “We have trained specialists available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is not the yellow pages or the Internet, there are real people here, and that makes a big difference.”

Service categories covered under 211 range from education and training, to drug and alcohol treatment and disaster planning. Callers are directed to a mix of nonprofit health organizations and city agencies, Stokes said.

During the San Diego wildfires, the number of daily callers using 211 there rose, an important precedent to consider if an earthquake hits the Bay Area, Stokes said.

“This service will definitely play a key role in relieving 911,” Stokes said.

Stokes said the service works with San Francisco city agencies, including Mayor Gavin Newsom’s 311 program, to direct callers to the best available resource.

“This is definitely a partnership program,” Stokes said. “We offer some different services than The City, but we are always quick to direct users to that service if necessary.”

wreisman@examiner.com  

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