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.
United Way 2-1-1,