BY: Christine Robere, President and CEO of United Way of the Lakeshore
The Flint Water Crisis has cast a light on the necessity to be prepared when disaster strikes. One service that has unwaveringly shone tremendous value throughout this situation, and which has proven worthy of state support, is Michigan 2-1-1.
2-1-1 is a confidential service that is free of charge to users and provides referral agency assistance. It helps those in need of assistance in our lakeshore communities of Muskegon, Newaygo and Oceana Counties, as well as throughout the state, to connect to thousands of different programs and services. The program has been instrumental in providing the Flint Water Task Force with timely information in Flint. This has allowed the group to make informed decisions day-in and day-out, all while keeping residents safe by providing the latest information and updates.
It’s far from the first time 2-1-1 has engaged in disaster relief in Michigan. Amidst flooding in Grand Rapids and Detroit, the recent tornado in Wyoming, and wildfires in the Upper Peninsula, 2-1-1 has been at the helm 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to help residents connect to – necessary resources and information.
Yet the program receives only $500,000 of its nearly $7 million in operational costs from the state. The rest is contributed by local United Ways, including the United Way of the Lakeshore. This funding inequity is an unsustainable model for the future, with some communities already unable to support 2-1-1 and the critical services it provides due to funding constraints.
Therefore, Michigan 2-1-1 is requesting a total of $3.5 million from the state to ensure the organization’s sustainability and to improve its infrastructure. This will allow the 2-1-1 network to meet the state’s demands for real-time information about the needs and questions residents have on a local level. This funding request includes a $500,000 fund for disaster and emergency relief that could roll over in years where it is underutilized. This will help ensure that Michigan residents in the midst of a crisis receive support immediately, when it is most needed. To chart a course for the future under this increased investment, the organization would develop a planning committee of state stakeholders and 2-1-1 leadership responsible for stewardship of the emergency funds.
Given their continued commitment to their lakeshore constituents, I urge Senator Goeff Hansen and Representatives Marcia Hovey-Wright, Holly Hughes, and Jon Bumstead to support the efforts to bolster the Michigan 2-1-1 network.
The sustainable funding will help 2-1-1 meet demands that have become evident in recent months, as well as achieve long-term goals to best serve Michigan residents. 2-1-1 currently supports 97 percent of the state, but the first priority under additional state support would be to provide statewide quality assurance, embracing a true statewide model for the organization.
Crisis support requires quality staff members, and ongoing training to arm them with the necessary skills needed to provide relief. The funding increase would support training sessions, including Veteran and Military Cultural Competency training, to AmeriCorps and other 2-1-1 staff.
As our culture continues to evolve and modes of communication change, 2-1-1 needs to be able to meet local residents where they are located and with current technology. For that reason, testing and deploying a mobile app, expanding online chat, and testing text-based assistance are top priorities for the organization in coming years.
In the event of a disaster, residents of our lakeshore communities need to know that they have somewhere to turn for critical information and resources. 2-1-1 will be that resource, but only if Michigan invests in its sustainable future.
2-1-1 is a program that connects citizens in need of assistance to the appropriate community resources. Locally, It is partially funded by United Way of Lakeshore. For more information on 211, visit www.call-211.org. United Way of the Lakeshore is uniting to inspire change and build thriving communities. Our Bold Goal – 10,000 more working families meet their basic needs by 2025. For more information, contact United Way of the Lakeshore at 231-332-4047 or visit www.unitedwaylakeshore.org.