Need help? Not an emergency? Call 211, officials say

United Way 211 specialists provide help to people who need help with housing, food, and utility assistance.

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United Way 211 specialists provide help to people who need help with housing, food, and utility assistance.

Local authorities are encouraging the public to avoid tying up 911 for non-emergency calls and to instead take advantage of another help number.

People can dial 211 for information and referral services, said Kerry Pedraza, executive director of Clark, Champaign and Madison Counties United Way.

Residents can obtain information at Helplink 2-1-1 about hospitals, doctors, the nearest food pantry, utility service or a variety of other types of assistance.

The number has been in Clark County for close to 30 years, Pedraza said.

The renewed effort to remind people that the number is available for non-emergency assistance 24 hours a day comes after a Springfield man was accused of abusing the 911 emergency dispatch system in April.

William Donahue, 62, was charged with one count of Improper Use of 911 System. On April 3, Donahue called the emergency number four times for groceries, an ankle injury and two attempts to reach his sister, according to officials.

This is not the first time Donahue has faced such charges. He pleaded guilty to the same charge in November 2017, after he called the emergency number for food.

The majority of calls are about food, Pedraza said.

“We get a lot of calls of where the nearest food pantry is. Where can someone get a hot meal,” she said. “We also get calls from people who may be concerned that they have an elderly parent that is living by themselves and they may not think they are eating correctly or are having some issues falling down.”

A Springfield resident believes the information number is needed because people need help.

“I think it’s very good because there are a lot of people that need resources and they don’t know where to turn to,” Joyce Dockery said.

The 211 specialists can guide people to the different resources in the community, Pedraza added.

“What we really want to do is to take the calls off the 911 system so that system is not overloaded, so they can get to true emergencies,” she said. “It’s really important that people understand that 911 is critical in a community. We all have had the need to call 911 but 911 is truly for emergencies.”

The emergency number is for something that is imminent, something critical happening at that moment, Pedraza said. The other number, 211, is a way for people to get the assistance they need without taking away from those critical services.

The local number is funded by donations from United Way and community foundations like Springfield Foundation, and Community Health Foundation as well as the government agency, Department of Job and Family Services.

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