Ryan Chartrand

Hotline of San Luis Obispo County, a 24-hour information, referral and crisis support system, is hoping to make the phone number 211 accessible by this summer.

Similar to 911, 211 is a 24-hour daily service that connects people to appropriate health and human services. It will be especially useful in disaster situations.

“In a disaster, 211 becomes the hub of public information. It will really help people and leave 911 open and available for real life and death situations,” said Hotline executive director Evan Mendelson.

The 211 service is designed to help in the distribution of information for evacuation routes, shelter locations during fires, earthquakes and other disasters. 211 also offers referrals for health care, senior citizens, child care and housing.

Hotline wants to switch to the 211 system from their current phone service because the number is easy to remember and offers relief for congested 911 lines in non-emergency situations.

“211 is like Hotline on steroids. The idea of 211 is that the number is easy to remember which makes it much more accessible,” Mendelson said.

The 211 system is currently available to over 65 percent of the country. There are 209 active systems in 41 states. In California, 211 is already accessible to eight counties, including Santa Barbara and Ventura.

When Santa Barbara County launched the 211 service in 2005, incoming calls immediately doubled from 700 to 1,400 a month, according to the Family Service Agency of Santa Barbara County.

“Throughout the country there has been a 100 to 400 percent increase in the amount of incoming calls once an operation switches to 211,” Mendelson said.

In order to account for the presumed increase in calls and to have their application approved by the Public Utilities Commission, Hotline plans to double the amount of on-call resource and support specialists to answer incoming calls.

The funds required to make San Luis Obispo County 211 accessible received a boost from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company recently. PG&E donated $10,000 to the county and committed to match up to $25,000 in March and again at the end of September.

In addition to the funding to get the program started, Hotline will also need to bring in funds annually to keep 211 running. Mendelson said that they will need the help of the government to pay for the service.

Government support for the system is growing as Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C. are introducing bipartisan legislation that would provide federal funding for 211.

Hotline is still available to San Luis Obispo County during this transition and can be reached at 549-8989.

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