Opinion Columns & Blogs

South Sound 2-1-1 in danger of losing critical funding

When people are in crisis, they experience overwhelming emotions: desperation, hopelessness, confusion.

Whether their crises stem from house fires, job losses, unexpected sicknesses or something else, one thing is certain. They need help.

You may not have ever dialed 2-1-1 yourself, but thousands of your neighbors in Pierce County do every week. By dialing 2-1-1, people in crisis find help. The victim of a house fire finds shelter, clothing banks and household goods. The recently unemployed person finds access to food, help with rental and utility assistance, and job training. The person battling illness finds help navigating the health care system, access to medical and dental, care and transportation to get to those important appointments. Dialing those three numbers connects them to a lifeline through South Sound 2-1-1.

Currently, there is no funding for 2-1-1 in the state budget. The 2-1-1 system is at risk.

Elimination of state funding means a reduction in service throughout the area. For the more than 80,000 people in Pierce, Lewis and Thurston counties who relied on 2-1-1 during the toughest times, even a reduction in service could be devastating.

One of the most comforting things for a person calling 2-1-1 is that a real person answers the phone. A person who is full of knowledge and compassion, and who can do more than give them a phone number. A real person who will sign them up for community programs or tell them about tax assistance to help them keep more of what they earn.

For someone calling out of desperation, hearing a real voice and talking to a real person who can see beyond their immediate needs and find multiple ways to help is invaluable.

But what if no one answered that call?

It would mean that the mother who called for help with her developmentally delayed child wouldn’t be able to call back, many times, to find resources as her child progressed.

It would mean that the elderly man living in rural Pierce County, where there is no transit service, couldn't access transportation.

It would mean that the military family recently assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord might not know how to access services in their new community.

It would mean that the family that couldn’t find resources for their utility bill would not be signed up for the Basic Food program, helping allocate more income to the electric bill.

South Sound 2-1-1 is critical to our community. We ask you to join us in advocating for funding for the 2-1-1 system. Please email your legislator, tell your friends, or even simply donate your social media status to raise awareness about this situation. This is your chance to answer the call for 2-1-1.

Dona Ponepinto is president and CEO of United Way of Pierce County.