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2-1-1 network set to launch: Portal will provide county residents with access to more than 8,000 services


by Mike Archbold Journal Reporter

The 2-1-1 network is finally coming to King County, giving residents an easily accessible portal to more than 8,000 community services.

The three digit telephone dialing system will launch Feb. 22 in the county, helping callers find child care, senior services, housing, and even food and clothing. Feb. 22 is also the launch date in a number of other counties in Western and Eastern Washington. It will go statewide as money and databases are available.

The Crisis Clinic, which provides emergency and informational services to people in emotional distress and in need of help in King County, will operate the 2-1-1- system locally, according to Crisis Clinic Executive Director Kathleen Southwick.

The Crisis Clinic's Community Information Line, which has operated since 1970, will become the 2-1-1 system, Southwick said. Paid trained staff members operate the information line to direct people to the service and agency that can help them. Specialists in housing, disabilities and languages other than English are available to help.

The goal of the information line, like 2-1-1, is to get people the help they need with the fewest number of calls, she said.

Southwick said 2-1-1 will make it that much easier.

``Studies have down that people make on average eight to 12 calls before they really find the agency that can help them,'' she said. ``If an average working family has something happen to them they don't know the agency that can help them.''

Washington state will join 32 other states including Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico whose 2-1-1 systems serve 139 million Americans.

United Way of King County is providing a major share of the funding locally, up to $238,000 so far. Seattle, King County and suburban cities are also involved.

Southwick said work on the 2-1-1 system began five years ago.

A group of agencies from around the state that provide comprehensive information and referral services for health and human services began discussing how to use the system. The Federal Communications Commission that year had directed that 2-1-1 could be used by local communities for a help line.

The state Legislature authorized the system statewide in 2003.

Southwick said Washington Information Network 2-1-1, a non-profit organization, was created to implement 2-1-1 statewide.

Last year, the Legislature came up with about $1 million to support development of a statewide data base and an integrated telephone system that will connect all the call centers together.

United Way of King County with a coalition of United Ways from other counties will be asking the Legislature this session for $2.5 million to make sure the 2-1-1 system can go statewide by the end of the year.

``This is one of United Way of King County's top three priorities,'' said spokesman Jeffrey Denenholz. ``We've been involved in it since its inception. We have invested in it because it is a great benefit to the community.''

When 2-1-1 goes live in February in King County, it will operate seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Southwick said the goal is to expand to a 24 hours a day, seven days a week but that will take more money.

The 2-1-1 number will be easily available on land lines but it may take time for wireless companies to include it in their system.

Besides being a help desk for those who need help, Southwick said the 2-1-1 Community Information Line allows people who want to help others find an agency that can use their energy and skills.

Southwick pointed out that many people needing emergency shelters and food call 911, the police and fire emergency line, now. When 2-1-1 is operational, it will be a more appropriate for those people to simply call 2-1-1. She said there have been fears that people might get 2-1-1 and 911 mixed up but she said hasn't proven to be the case elsewhere.

Mike Archbold can be reached at mike.archbold@kingcountyjournal.com or at 253-872-6647.

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