211 Helpline Adds Texting Options to Expand Access to Service

211 logoSC 2-1-1 is a free and confidential 24/7 service providing resources for individuals seeking assistance in a wide number of areas, such as financial help with paying rent and utility bills, low-income or subsidized housing, and, more recently, a range of information and services from the Department of Social Services (DSS). Services within DSS include TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), Food and Nutrition Programs (emergency food assistance, programs for seniors, healthy eating activities), childcare assistance and child well-being services. DSS also provides Benefits Screenings for these programs, which is a vital service, as federal guidelines can change each year. With regular screenings, community members ensure they receive all assistance for which they are eligible. These programs are designed to strengthen families and maintain financial stability.

From anywhere in the Tri-County, a user can simply text “211-211” followed by one keyword and they will immediately be directed to the resources they need. The four keywords are “food”, “home”, “electric” and “DSS”, and referrals for each of these services are available in every zip code or county across South Carolina. Once you text a keyword, the system will automatically respond to ask for a zip code. From there, the user will receive information on agencies that can provide direct assistance. It's that easy!  

person texting on phoneThe 2-1-1- Helpline service has been available for some time via phone and on the web (sc211.org), but on February 11, 2022 (2-1-1 Day) a texting option was added as a result of the United Way Association of South Carolina’s diversity work in an effort to broaden the service’s reach. 

In an effort to reach more community members that may have a language barrier or safety concern that would make phone calls challenging, a texting option was made available in both English and Spanish. This system enhancement allowed for clear, written responses in two languages and provided a more discrete means of communication so that people who feared for their safety in their homes, including LGBTQ youth and domestic violence victims, could reach out without making a phone call that could be overheard. It also offered privacy for those who may not want to have a conversation about their current needs or conditions. Texting also provides opportunities for community members who may have a cell phone, but no cellular plan, to reach out via free Wi-Fi hotspots around the Tri-County. 

“2-1-1 texting has had a very healthy start. We have seen a lot of texts come in month over month, especially with the addition of the keyword DSS,” said Director of SC 211 Services, Katie Reams. “We look forward to the continued growth of the program and the support this service will offer the Tri-County.”

Calls from Tri-County residents to the helpline have remained steady since the pandemic. More than 13,000 calls per year, or more than 1,000 calls a month on average.  

Trident United Way Tri-County 211 Helpline Requests 2021 vs 2020:

  • Financial assistance with rent and utilities + 206% increase in need
  • Housing needs (staying safe, dry, warm and fed) + 204% + 206% increase in need
  • Homeless motel vouchers +148%
  • Mortgage assistance + 37%

FY 2021-2022 Traffic Overview 

  • 13,702 Total Calls (Tri-County region)
  • 24,286 Total Referrals (Tri-County region)
  • 140,400 Website Visits (statewide)
  • Top Caller Needs: Electric Assistance (20% of calls) and Rent Assistance (20% of calls)

This article was originally shared in the Charleston Regional Business Journal 2022 Giving Guide. Click here to view the original article.