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The 411 on 211 

02.04.09



Marin and Napa counties already have a one-stop number for volunteer opportunities, questions about health insurance and information on food stamps, but on Wednesday, Feb. 11, the newest three-digit number phone line finally launches in Sonoma County. The number is 211, and the fact that it debuts on 2-11 is no coincidence. Unlike its counterparts 911 and 411, 211 is not for life-or-death emergencies or to be used as simply a directory.

"Two-one-one is an easy-to-remember health and human service number, so that when you have a need—let's say that you just got evicted or your PG&E is going to be turned off—they'll refer you right on the spot to the correct person or agency that can help," explains Stacy Ruppert, the communications manager at United Way of the Wine Country. "Right now, people have to make an average of nine calls before they get to the right number; this cuts it down to two."

Instead of reaching an automated message or someone in India, calls to 211 will be directed to real people in the community. "Right now it's located in county center and staffed by real people who live here, 24 hours a day," Ruppert says. "After-hours and on the weekends, it will be sent down to another 211 call center, but during the day it will still be here in Sonoma County." United Way agencies across California are taking on 211's launch. United Way of the Wine Country is launching the number not only in Sonoma County, but also soon in Mendocino and Lake counties.

"Sometimes, 911 is fielding calls that aren't relevant to it," Ruppert continues. "In times of disaster, you can call 211 and whatever you need, it's right there." This new support line is also important in reducing calls to 911 when natural disasters occur. Last summer during Southern California's ravaging wildfires, 911 call centers in many areas went down from the influx of calls, but 211 was still up and ready to help people trace family members and find important resources.

Cell phones cannot dial 211, but can reach its services at 1.800.325.9604. Walk-in clients are welcome at Human Services Dept., 8:30am–5pm. 2550 Paulin Drive, Santa Rosa.



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