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Future uncertain for 211 assistance phone line

Indianapolis 211 program faces uncertain future

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Last summer, right in the middle of one of the city’s crime hot spots, Greg Meriweather of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department encouraged people to call 211, a number typically reserved for people in need of community assistance, instead of 911.

He said a lot of IMPD runs sometimes will be more focused on service than they are on crime. “And we believe by unifying and coming together, we can help streamline this thing and have the officers actually doing the things 911 would call for them today.”

Mayor Joe Hogsett discussed the effectiveness of the 211 program recently. “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.”

Indiana lawmakers are considering changes in how the system is funded, how it is used for state referrals and how agencies interact with the system.

Feb. 11, or 211 day, honors the 211 system, a private nonprofit that provides free unbiased and confidential referrals. The 211 call center is housed in a northside office building. Several operators work from homes around the state. Catherine McNaughton is the interim state director.

“if you are looking for a homeless shelter, you are looking for assistance in paying your rent or, in the cooler weather, you are looking for assistance to pay your electric or gas bill when you have not been able to cover your rent, all of those are health- and human-related, and you can contact 211 and we can help make a referral to the right organization,” McNaughton said.

The 211 system in Indiana answered almost 350,000 calls last year. Utilities, housing and food are the top three needs for help.