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OHIO 211 line proposed



Published: Fri, August 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The line would help people find social service assistance in their area.

By SEAN BARRON

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

If you need an ambulance or the police, call 911; if you need a phone number, dial 411. Soon, you'll be able to add 211 to the list of easy-to-remember numbers.

The Ohio Council of Information and Referral Providers is leading an effort for a statewide 211 service, recently approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The number would provide callers with easy access to community information in their area.

In Mahoning and Columbiana counties, calls to 211 would likely go through Help Hotline Inc., the main resource center for both counties, said JoAnn Stock, director of campaign and marketing for the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley United Way. Stock said her agency has formed a partnership with Help Hotline, one of 31 local United Way agencies.

Services would include senior citizen information, drug counseling, food and shelter centers and various child- and health-care resources. People will also be able to get information about mental health centers, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon and many other support groups, according to Jennie Sharp, Help Hotline's information, access and recovery manager.

Help Hotline was the first information and referral agency in Ohio to submit an application to OCIRP. If approved, Help Hotline would act as the main 211 center for Mahoning and Columbiana counties and parts of Trumbull and Ashtabula counties, Sharp said.

She added that simplifying access to information should reduce callers' frustration.

"Many agencies or offices change their name," making it difficult for some people to know whom to contact, she said.

A place to start: Deanna Clifford, director of community relations for District XI Area Agency on Aging, said it's often difficult for those who use the social service system for the first time to know where to begin. Many people refer to a phone directory but don't always know which agencies serve which needs, she added.

"We need a central place to direct the person," Clifford said.

Most Ohio counties have the resources to address residents' needs. However, many people don't know a particular agency's name or simply don't know where to turn, said Sue Pierson, vice president of InfoLine, an Akron-based information and referral agency.

The system should reduce multiple and unnecessary calls some people have to make to get the help they need, according to Gigi Woodruff, project manager for the 211 Ohio Collaborative. It should also cut down on inappropriate 911 calls, she added.

Time frame: One of OCIRP's goals is to have the free, 24-hour service available throughout Northeast Ohio by early 2002. It should be operating in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties around that time, Woodruff said.

Woodruff said the collaborative is meeting with phone companies throughout Ohio to prepare them for the service.

barron@vindy.com




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