Daily Herald opinion: 211 hotline is a welcome addition in DuPage County

If you are struggling with housing instability, food insecurity, addiction or other issues, plenty of help is available here in the suburbs.

The challenge some people have is finding the right local nonprofit group or government program to turn to during their time of need.

But a newly launched service in DuPage County makes getting assistance as simple as dialing 2-1-1.

DuPage recently activated its 211 system - a free and confidential 24-hour hotline that connects folks to a range of health and social services.

The 211 line allows DuPage residents to use an easy-to-remember number to access help by phone. Callers receive immediate referrals to mental health services, addiction support and rehabilitation, crisis counseling, supplemental food programs, shelter and affordable housing options, employment and education support, financial support and other assistance.

The hotline is a welcome addition to the county because it improves access and provides immediate help.

While county staffers already respond to inquiries for assistance, that service was available only during weekday business hours. Now residents using the 211 system can reach someone at any time.

"No matter the situation, the specialists at 211 listen," said Julie Renehan, a DuPage County Board member who serves as chairwoman of the health and human services committee. "They identify underlying problems and connect people in need with resources and services in their community that improve lives."

Our Katlyn Smith reported that DuPage's system is expanding 211 coverage in the Chicago area. Will, Kane, McHenry and Lake are among the counties already offering 211 helplines.

As of February 2022, Lake County's 211 system fielded more than 125,000 phone calls, texts and online requests since its inception in 2019. Officials say they expect the 211 system in DuPage to receive between 30,000 and 40,000 calls during its first year.

DuPage was able to implement 211 with federal pandemic relief funds. County board members earmarked $1.6 million from the American Rescue Plan to set up and operate the system.

Smith reported that DuPage used the money to add two information and referral specialists and one manager in its community services department. It also upgraded the department's database and phone system. In addition, the county board approved a contract with the village for the Addison Consolidated Dispatch Center to process 211 calls on nights and weekends.

DuPage continues to impress us by finding innovative ways to use COVID-19 relief funding. County officials saw the benefit of allowing people to pick up a phone - at any time - and get help.

We applaud the decision to use federal money to make the countywide 211 system a reality.

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