Numbers can often tell a story. Looking back over the past year’s statistics prove very telling: 2022 was a difficult one for many people in our community in terms of health and human services needs.
While many thought 2022 would be the year we left the pandemic behind, thoughts of COVID-19 not only continued but were also compounded and often overshadowed by economic instability and inflation concerns.
Here at the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties, we have a front-row seat to many of the concerns plaguing residents, because our office serves as the WV211 call center for both counties.
WV211 is a health and human service hotline people can call when they don’t know where else to turn. People in need of food, help with financial assistance, mental health services, domestic violence resources, child care, and more can all simply dial 2-1-1 to be connected with a specialist who will listen to their concerns and point them in the right direction.
Joseph Wakim, our WV211 community resource specialist, recently reported some of the statistics from the past year’s calls, which are pretty telling. Wakim answers calls in our office on a daily basis and logs them all into a system to track what needs keep coming up in our community.
In 2022, he answered 1,308 calls to the hotline and made 4,409 referrals to different agencies and programs in the community that could assist callers.
The top needs in Mon and Preston counties are unchanged from last year. The top need was housing, followed by utility assistance and food pantries/hunger. Other top needs were legal aid, counseling and a variety of others, including elderly or homebound folks who need help with winterizing houses, home projects and transportation to and from doctors’ appointments.
The busiest time of year for calls to our office was summer, with 244 calls being answered in July, followed by 212 in August and 141 in June.
The overall totals are up year over year. Compared to 2021 stats, 571 more people called 211 in our area, and there were 1,280 more referrals given for the year.
“I am genuinely stunned,” Wakim said. “In my opinion, there are a couple of things at work why I think both calls and referrals are up. The abundance of assistance programs afforded to the public, the draw down of assistance programs and the rise in the cost of goods all are contributing factors for the dramatic increase in both calls and referrals from 2021 to 2022.
“Callers who dial 211 or come to the office are telling me the main reason they need resource assistance is the rise in the cost of utility bills, rent and food.”
When callers reach out, Wakim listens to them, takes down some basic information and then makes referrals to agencies and programs in the community that make sense for the individual caller. For example, if someone calls in needing food, Wakim finds pantries that are close by and able to meet the needs.
It’s a personalized service for the caller. As the 211 tagline says, sometimes you need more than an internet search. If that’s the case, give us a ring.
If you are in need of help and don’t know who to call, dial 211, visit wv211.org, or text your zip code to 898-211.
AMANDA POSEY is the director of marketing and communications for the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties. She can be reached at email@example.com.