2-1-1 phone number to provide assistance in L.A.

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A three-digit phone number, 2-1-1, similar to 9-1-1, will allow people in Los Angeles County to call for basic health and human assistance beginning in July.

The service, which was unavailable in California until this year, was implemented in 1997 by other states, to give people an easy-to-remember number that accesses a variety of services, such as health care, local babysitting, job training and help with domestic issues, said David Albritton, vice president of communication for United Way of America, a partner in the 2-1-1 service.

“If you’re a single mother and you just moved into a new neighborhood and were looking for a babysitter, 2-1-1 could help,” Albritton said.

On Feb. 11 Ventura was the first county in California to implement 2-1-1.

“The call volume has doubled from the first week and a half or so, which is what (United Way) expected,” said David Smith, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Ventura County.

Since the launch of 2-1-1 in Ventura County, there have been no problems with the system, Smith said.

The three-digit number is available in 35 percent of the country, and represents 141 active 2-1-1 call centers in about 30 states. It is now available to 108 million Americans, Albritton said.

“About 67 percent of California will have access to 2-1-1 by the end of 2005,” said Lynn Pesely, 2-1-1 statewide coordinator for the California Alliance of Information and Referral Service (CAIRS).

However, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed Assembly Bill 2283, authored by assemblymember Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), that would have managed 2-1-1 funds in California, Pesely said.

In a letter to members of the California State Assembly, Schwarzenegger said he vetoed the bill because it was premature to enact legislation that required federal funding that had yet to be passed by Congress.

“Unfortunately, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed Assembly Bill 2283, which would have greatly enhanced California’s ability to establish a statewide 2-1-1 service by allowing the Health and Human Services Agency to designate a lead entity responsible for developing and implementing plans for statewide coverage and providing coordination among counties,” Chu said.

“AB 2283 would have provided for a statewide information and referral service via 2-1-1, (would) reduce costs and workload pressures on 9-1-1, and (would) help people greatly in getting the services they need,” Chu said.

United Way is working with congress to pass a bill that would allow $150 million to be authorized to sustain 2-1-1, Albritton said.

The 2-1-1 service was beneficial in Florida where victims of Hurricane Charly utilized the phone number, Albritton said.

“In Florida, prior to the hurricanes, 78 percent (of the state) was covered by 2-1-1,” Albritton said. “When Hurricane Charly hit, it devastated a lot of communities and (2-1-1) received 10,000 calls in five days.”

The 2-1-1 service was the go-to number for many emergency services in Florida after the hurricane, Albritton said. Victims received information and updates on where to get ice, medicine, and also helped the elderly with emergency issues.

Phone operators working with 2-1-1 are trained according to which part of the country he or she is working in, Pesely said.

“To be an information specialist, they are trained according to national standards from the alliance of information and referral services,” Pesely said.

Although the service might face some caller confusion in the beginning, over time people will hopefully see the benefits of the 2-1-1 service, since it involves every agency that offers human resources, Albritton said.

“It took 9-1-1 30-plus years to be the number one emergency number,” Albriton said. “We want to implement 2-1-1 faster.”