Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 7, 2013

Our View: 211 system makes it easier


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---- — At long last, northwest Lower Michigan is joining the rest of the state in implementing a simple, common-sense system that will help those in need get access to the community resources we pay so much to provide but are often so hard to access.

The Michigan Public Service Commission approved the 211 community resources hot line Jan. 31 for the an area that inclues Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties. It should be operable here soon.

It's one of those great ideas that, for some reason, has taken years and years to implement.

The 211 system gives individuals a way to navigate the maze of community resources available and tells them how to get access to them. Operators will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to direct callers to all kinds of services, from finding help paying a utility bill to filing federal income taxes or getting domestic abuse counseling.

Anyone who has tried to do something as simple as getting help for a low-income mom can testify that unless you know the system and how to make your way through it, the massive social services network can be hard to figure out.

And for those who don't have easy access to a phone or are simply unfamiliar with what's out there, wading through a series of dead-end phone calls can be intimidating and frustrating.

As is so often the case, those who need the help most are often those least able to get it.

The 211 system is meant to resolve all that by providing operators who know the system and how to access help. They know who helps pay utility bills or where to get food for low-income families and how to reach those resources. Most of us have no idea where to even start on such a journey.

Taxpayers and those who support local charities pour millions each year into programs intended to help those who need it; but without a resource like 211, putting those in need together with those who can help can be the hardest part of the equation.

Local organizations have been pushing for a 211 system for years, and it is already available in 95 percent of the state. The fact that the Grand Traverse area is in the last 5 percent is an embarrassment.

What's next is ensuring that local governments come up with the $80,000 a year it will take to maintain the service in the five-county area. Going backwards can't be acceptable.