Fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish, Cristina Amedeo directs the United Way’s 2-1-1 program, a free and confidential 24/7 information and referral helpline that connects Rhode Islanders from all walks of life with human- services programs to help cope with difficult times. The 2-1-1 service has handled more than 1 million requests for help since 2007, including 213,595 calls in 2013 – a new record.
Rhode Island’s 2-1-1 service also handles the highest call volume per capita of any such service in the country, according to the United Way. In 2013, the service began serving as a resource for the community in partnership with HealthSource RI to prepare for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and is expanding in other ways.
PBN: How does 2-1-1 work?
AMEDEO: 2-1-1 is an information and referral number. It is toll-free and available in 240 call centers in all 50 states. A person dials 2-1-1, it comes to a United Way building and it’s handled by one of 12 specialists 24/7, 365 days a year. Usually they call about heating assistance, rental assistance, health care and mental-health needs.
PBN: The 2-1-1 program serves people not only by phone but through walk-in services. When and why were walk-in services introduced?
AMEDEO: Walk-in was introduced in 2008 when we moved into [Providence’s] Olneyville neighborhood because there were a lot of individuals in those neighborhoods who had no telephone. We have several sites around the state where we use our new RV to host walk-in services.
PBN: Have walk-in services increased and if so, why, and how are you handling that?
AMEDEO: We started by having 12 walk-ins a week, now we have 12 a day. Individuals are also looking for that personal connection and the word got out that we do walk-in services. And our clients have changed: they need a little more hand-holding and further explanation about health and human services in our community. In 2008, the economy tanked. Clients now are individuals who used to be part of the working class.