By Sandy Scarmack/Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Some 754 people called 2-1-1 in Mercer County during the first year of its operation and were looking for help to pay their rent, followed by help with utility bills, finding something to eat and lastly for job assistance.
The emergency helpline was activated in February 2013 and the numbers, according to Jim Micsky, executive director of the United Way of Mercer County, are right where he expected them to be.
“We’re so thrilled to have this in our county. There were some growing pains of course, but there’s always little glitches when you are starting something out, but overall I think it works extremely well,” he said.
Calls with a non-medical emergency are directed, according to ZIP code, to the agencies that might best serve their needs. Calls placed to 2-1-1 are answered in a large call center in Allegheny County and then localized based on the phone number and ZIP code.
In 2013, there were 48 calls for help in February and 34 and 36 calls each in March and April, and then the calls doubled up into the 70s. By August, county residents had called 90 times for assistance and the call volumes have remained consistently around 90 since.
The top 10 needs were:
• Rent payment assistance (140 calls)
• Electric service payment assistance (94 calls)
• Temporary financial assistance (51 calls)
• Gas service payment assistance (50 calls)
• Inquiries about food pantries (48 calls)
• Water service payment assistance (32 calls)
• Home rental listings (23 calls)
• Transitional housing or shelter (22 calls)
• Aging or disability resources (20 calls)
• Job assistance centers (19 calls).
According to data provided by the PA 2-1-1 Southwest 2013 annual report, the biggest spike for utility payment assistance occurred in November, about the same time a similar increase in requests for food assistance happened. Housing assistance requests rose sharply in December. Transportation requests were nominal and remained that way throughout the year.
More women than men called, as records indicate of the callers from Mercer County, 78 percent were female. The highest number of calls came from Sharon, with 199 calls, followed by Greenville with 104 calls and Farrell with 90 calls.
Other communities by calls for help included:
• Grove City, 78
• Hermitage, 78
• Mercer, 58
• Sharpsville, 47
• Transfer, 33
• Jackson Center, 13
• Sandy Lake, 13
• West Middlesex, 10
• Wheatland, 8
• Fredonia, 7
• Stoneboro, 6
• Jamestown, 4
• Hadley, 3
• New Wilmington, 2
• Adamsville, 1
The biggest challenges going forward, according to Micsky, is increasing awareness of the helpline and getting area agencies up-to-date with their data at the call centers.
“Our 27 agencies provide a quality service and most of them are stressed to the max. As we begin our allocation process for United Way dollars, we’ll be looking at the influence of 2-1-1 to where best to spend our donated dollars. To move forward, it’s important that the agencies are current with what they can provide and important that that information is available when calls dial 2-1-1,” he said.
The 2013 United Way campaign officially ends March 31 and currently the organization has reached the $800,000 mark, Micsky said. He hopes to meet or exceed last year’s collection of $863,000.
He said he was not surprised about the number or types of calls to 2-1-1. “I think it’s pretty much in keeping with what other counties are seeing. But I know what kind of help people are looking for, because we get those calls every single day here at the office,” he said.
As the helpline continues, Micsky said the United Way will use the data to “make sure every ZIP code is fairly represented through the United Way. It’s a good representations of what and where the needs are,” he said.
Published March 1, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.