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Agency handles calls for help with utilities

Posted: Sunday, July 18, 2004

While some are able to come out of the brutal heat into air-conditioned houses, others in the area can't even turn on a fan or a light.

"I talked to one lady who said she'd been using a candle for weeks," said Heather Glasgow, director of the United Way of the CSRA's 211 referral service.

Glasgow and the 211 staff receive calls daily just like that one requesting help for utilities.

"Utility, rent and gas assistance are probably 70 percent of our calls," she said.

Since Feb. 24, residents in several Georgia counties including Richmond and Columbia have been able to utilize Augusta's 211 service.

By dialing those three numbers on a standard phone, people are connected to someone in the 211 office who can access a database to find information on a variety of services including food assistance, job training, adult day care and respite care and programs for children.

A seven-digit number, 826-1495, must be used if someone is calling from a cell phone.

Callers are asked for their zip code so the 211 staff can find help that is closest to their location. Many people who call do not have transportation.

The 211 staff are also able to determine where needs are not being met.

Glasgow said there are only two agencies in Augusta that help with utility assistance and another alarming need is in the health care arena.

Within the last week, Glasgow received a phone call from a woman whose 28-year-old daughter has cancer and was supposed to start chemotherapy this week; however, her son-in-law recently had his job reduced to part-time hours with no benefits.

The United Way has been working on getting a referral line for about three years, said LaVerne Gold, vice president of community impact at the United Way But other projects have had to be completed prior to starting the 211 service.

Then funding had to be acquired for the project. The 211 service is linked to 911 and to a behavioral health line in case of emergencies.

On the first day the number was operational, employees at the 211 center received a call from a man who was having a heart attack.

At that time not all of the kinks had been worked out of the lines so they called 911 for him and stayed on the line with him until help arrived to take him to the hospital.

Although it's only been operational for a few months, Glasgow said calls to the center have exceeded expectations with 40 to 50 calls a day. The number is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and more Georgia counties will be added to the coverage area by the end of the year.

People who are in need of assistance cannot visit the United Way's office on Ellis Street to access 211. If they appear in person, a staff member will direct them to an office, where they can call 211.



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