2-1-1 is the telephone number that accesses an informational resource through which a caller can obtain information about human and social services available in a particular community. The system is in place both in the United States and Canada. Many people don’t know precisely what is available via the 2-1-1 system. Indeed, a good many people in the United States don’t even realize that the 2-1-1 system exists.

How 2-1-1 Works

The 2-1-1 is simple to access and utilize. As noted, all a person in a community served by 2-1-1 need do is dial the number. A caller will be connected with a specialist on duty. A specialist is trained to assist a caller in finding appropriate services and resources in the community. The 2-1-1 system is in operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, including all major holidays.

Locally each 2-1-1 system is operated either by a local unit of government, a local nonprofit organization, or the local United Way. Indeed, in the United States, the local United Way operates the 2-1-1 system. The system is designed to ensure people can overcome roadblocks to obtaining information about vital, necessary resources.

Types of Referrals Made Via 2-1-1

There is some variance in the types of referrals that are made through a local 2-1-1 system depending on the services and resources available in a particular community. Examples of the types of services and resources accessible via a 2-1-1 system include:

  • supplemental food and nutrition programs
  • homeless shelter and housing options
  • utility assistance
  • emergency information and disaster relief
  • employment opportunities
  • education opportunities
  • services for veterans
  • health care, vaccination, and health epidemic information
  • addiction prevention and rehabilitation programs
  • reentry assistance for newly released offenders
  • support groups for individuals with mental illnesses
  • support groups for individuals with substance abuse or addiction issues
  • a safe, confidential path out of physical or emotional domestic abuse

The Extent of Use of 2-1-1

2-1-1 is widely utilized in this day and age. 2-1-1 is dedicated to being the frontline, essential resources to an individual in a community in need of an array of different types of assistance. During 2017, the last year a full set of statistics is available, 13.4 callers were assisted in finding services and resources through 2-1-1. In addition, information and assistance were provided through about 1 million texts, emails, and web chats. By 2017, 2-1-1 was available to 94 percent of the U.S. population. As of this juncture in time, Chicago remains the only major metropolitan area in the United States that is not served by the 2-1-1 system.

History of 2-1-1

2-1-1 was first introduced in 1997 in Atlanta. It was overseen by the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, the organization which still manages 2-1-1 in the greater Atlanta area.

Not long after the pilot program began in Atlanta, the United Way of America entered into a partnership with the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems or AIRS. The partnership was designed to implement 2-1-1 systems across the United States. In 2000, the 2-1-1 telephone number was approved by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, for use across the United States. Today, local United Way organizations either operate or provide the funding for over 70 percent of 2-1-1 systems or centers in the United States.

2-1-1 and Future Disasters

As mentioned previously, 2-1-1 is a valuable resource when it comes to accessing services and resources during a disaster. As a result, at this time local 2-1-1 systems or centers are exploring the possibility of entering into Memorandums of Understanding with the federal and various state governments. The objective is to develop a partnership through which information about services and resources and efficiently be provided in the event of a disaster or emergency of some type.

The theory is that media outlets and others, including emergency management agencies, can advise citizens to call 2-1-1 to obtain vital information about services and resources during a disaster or emergency. 2-1-1 specialists would be informed of such matters as a current disaster or emergency plans as well as locations of centers to obtain assistance. 2-1-1 specialists would also be educated on what to inform the public about proper courses of action to take in the event of a disaster or emergency.

The emergency use of 2-1-1 has already been overtaken in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The 2-1-1 system was used in Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and throughout the Gulf Coast region. In addition, the 2-1-1 system was used in Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts to provide assistance to individuals forced to flee Puerto Rico during the weather catastrophe that decimated the island nation.

In what truly is a very short period of time, 2-1-1 has grown to be a major component of the overall system connecting people in need with vital resources and services. The services offered through 2-1-1 are expected to expand in the more immediate future, including an ever-expanding use of 2-1-1 in emergencies and disasters of different types.


Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services like biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.