I-Team 8

Reverend: Indiana’s changing 211 help line partially to blame for Indy’s rise in violence

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The 211 line is a free and confidential service that is designed to connect Hoosiers with help from a multitude of places.

From finding a job to mental health services and just about anything in between can be found on the 211 website. For example, the “talk it out, don’t shoot it out” campaign started by the Rev. David Greene Sr. with Purpose of Life Ministries and other members of the clergy encouraged people to put down their guns and pick up the phone and call 211 for help.

“We were encouraging community members when they saw things to call 211 because sometimes they are nervous about calling 911, you know, the police track it, etc., so they were not always comfortable calling 911. They were calling 211 to say, ‘This is what I am seeing,’ or ‘This is going on in the community.’”

In February, News 8 asked Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett if the “talk it out, don’t shoot it out” campaign was working and if the funding for 211 was a problem. He said, “Well, I think it is working well, but frankly the funding for that is in the process of changing and so the future will be determined by how we can adequately fund that in the absences of previous funders.”

Funding was a problem the 211 system as a private nonprofit that received some state funding. In July, the state has taken over the 211 system. State government placed the help line within its Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA).

Greene told News 8 the transition period has been rough; FSSA had to restaff the calling centers, and the calls that were once handled in Indianapolis were routed all over the state. The reverend says the 211 system lost its local edge and is partially to blame for the increase in crime in Indianapolis.

“The key (to the the ‘talk it out, don’t shoot it out’ campaign) is to have people comfortable enough to have an avenue they can call, that they trust to say, ‘OK, I can do this and not get in trouble, there will be no ramifications, nobody is going to be shooting up my house because I told this.’ 211 was the mechanism for that,” the reverend said.

FSSA issued a statement for News 8’s report.

“Thank you for the opportunity to provide information for your story. In July Indiana 211 began a transition period that will result in its moving away from its traditional county-based model to be integrated within the state’s health and human services delivery system. This transition will be completed December 31, 2020. To be clear, Indiana 211 is not designed to be a crisis response program. Rather it is a statewide call service that makes referrals to existing community-based organizations.

“Like all organizations related to social services/health care/community support, Indiana 211 has seen increased demand as a result of the public health emergency. For example, in January 2020, Indiana 211 answered 12,365 calls statewide. In June, that number had climbed to 20,479.

“Also in July of this year, the Be Well Crisis Helpline launched. This is a disaster relief crisis counseling program accessible to Hoosiers by calling 2-1-1 (and selecting option 3). We strongly recommend this service for Hoosiers facing a crisis response or other mental health challenges – especially brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. To date this service, available 24/7, has fielded over 1,900 calls, and has an average wait time of 17 seconds.”

Indiana Family and Social Services Administration