Who you gonna Call? Or perhaps more accurately: How you gonna Call?
An idea to consider: It occurs to me that we have a great 9-1-1 system operated by our local governments and a wonderful 2-1-1 system operated by United Way. I think we all know about 911 but only a few know about 211. 211 is a wonderful system available over about 80% of this country.
One call will reach a trained operator that will find out what you need in the way of services if you are broke, need a doctor, have mental problems, can’t pay your utilities, or have virtually any non 911 emergency need that you are unable to meet yourself. 211 calls are typically made by those with limited resources to pay or find the services they need otherwise. 211 is a referral service only.
However, the phone companies are removing the phone booths as fast as they can so the option of using a phone booth to make emergency calls of any kind is disappearing fast. Most of our homeless cannot afford cell phones and many businesses refuse use of their phones to the public.
Some homeless (usually parents with children in school) carry cell phones and they can call 911 anytime even if the phone has no minutes or has been discarded and no longer activated. But…. can they call 211? Most cell phones can’t, but a few select providers do. Metro PCS is the provider in the Atlanta area that allows 211 calls from cell phones. Since the answer is generally NO, then I want to suggest that United Way lobby the cell phone companies to allow free 211 calls for any cell phone even if it is not in service as long as it can get signal, and suggest that we all lobby our Congress to require it.
Actually I have alredy talked to United Way of Atlanta’s call center director and they are considering the possibilities and welcome my suggestions. However, this needs to be nation-wide and you need to consider taking up the cause whereever you are located. As a short-term solution, the local 9-1-1 call centers should be allowed to transfer calls to 2-1-1 at their discretion if there is a need for help that is not a police matter.
However, if we can get 2-1-1 calling through cell phones with no-service calling features (all you need is signal, not air time), then we could collect and distribute old cell phones for use by the homeless and needy families who could then call 211 as well as 911 without charge and with no cost to them for air time. There are millions of these old cell phones around. I know we do that now for emergency use by battered women, but can’t we do this little thing for the homeless too?