ALPENA More and more residents are dialing 2-1-1 when they need help getting through Michigan's maze of health and human services.
Use of the United Way service, first organized in 2009, has been steadily increasing, Scott Redman, executive director of Northeast Michigan 211, said.
In 2012, more than 23,000 people statewide dialed 2-1-1 seeking referrals. The previous year that figure was 13,416 when fewer counties were served.
Requests are wide ranging. Some call asking where they can get help paying for heating fuel or assistance filling out unemployment insurance claims. Others say they need money for gas, or are looking for bereavement counseling.
The service is free and confidential, and those seeking help can also use chat lines or email, Redman said.
"People can also call 2-1-1 to offer help," he said.
A person might want to donate appliances from a kitchen remodel, or ask where they can volunteer in their community.
Locally, use of the program spiked during the last quarter of 2012 after the 3-digit number was put into service, he said. Previously, some residents had to dial an 11-digit, toll-free number to get answers to their non-emergency questions.
According to information at www.211nemichigan.org, usage also increases around April 15, when people have questions about filing their tax returns.
Redman said when a caller contacts the service, the operator asks how many people live with the resident.
"We figure if you are calling to get food, we ask how many people are in your household," he said.
Redman said they consider the number of people who are in the household when helping a caller. If one person calls and there are five people in a house, then they have helped five people.
In Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties, 340 callers contacted the service in 2012, resulting in the potential for aiding 729 people. The largest demand came from Alpena County, with a spike in the last quarter around the holidays.
A 2012 breakdown county by county:
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