Heart of West Michigan United Way’s 2-1-1 health and human services hotline received more than 67,000 calls in 2014, a 17% increase over 2013.
Critical needs in West Michigan included utility, food and shelter assistance, information on VITA tax preparation locations, transportation and housing assistance, referrals to veteran programs, and rent or deposit payment assistance.
The greatest need in 2014 was requests for utility assistance (electric service, gas service and heating fuel). 2-1-1 saw a 116% increase in utility assistance calls (13,039 calls compared to 6,036 in 2013).
In the past, the Michigan Department of Human Services offered help year-round, but this year the utility assistance program was restructured. The state has opted only to offer crisis aid for utilities during the “crisis season” between Nov. 1 and May 31. This led to an increase in calls during June, when funding ended, and when funding resumed in the fall.
Other key community events led to an increase in calls. The harsh winter conditions in January and February and an early return of winter in November established a greater need for shoveling assistance for seniors and disabled individuals, heating assistance and furnace repairs. In June, a F1 tornado struck parts of the community, and 2-1-1 was necessary to refer callers to relief and recovery resources.
In August, Heart of West Michigan United Way helped take Southeastern Michigan’s 2-1-1 calls during the flood that expanded across Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland counties. Over the course of seven days, our local center responded to 672 calls from the areas hardest-hit by the flood, dramatically decreasing waiting times for callers in urgent need. This was possible through a state-wide 2-1-1 system that was implemented just a few weeks prior to the flood.
In the next few months, 2-1-1 expects callers who are requesting appointments and information of United Way's free tax preparation service, Kent County Tax Credit Coalition, and a high-volume of calls for utility assistance, snow-removal, and veterans services to continue.
Anyone in Kent County can call 2-1-1 for free, confidential information from any land line or 1-800-887-1107 from any phone, 24 hours a day. Learn more at hwmuw.org/2-1-1.