New data from United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley shows 11 percent increase in calls for assistance to Mass 2-1-1

February 11, 2019

BOSTON –  United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley is today releasing new data from Mass 2-1-1, a free health and human service referral line funded by United Way, showing that there were 76,492 calls for assistance, an 11% increase over 2017, in the Greater Boston, Merrimack Valley, North Shore, South Shore and Greater Attleboro/Taunton regions of Massachusetts in 2018.  The data is being released today, February 11, as part of National 2-1-1 Day. Calls in 2018 overwhelmingly focused on accessing help for basic needs, including assistance with child care, housing and shelter, utility payments and food assistance. In addition, requests regarding mental health and addiction rose 24 percent from last year.

Last Fall, Mass 2-1-1 also played a critical role in the Merrimack Valley gas leak disaster. In the first few days following the gas leak situation in Lawrence and the Merrimack Valley, Mass 2-1-1 responded to over 3,850 calls from people in crisis and looking for vital information about available resources for housing and other assistance.  With special funding from United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley’s Greater Lawrence Relief Fund, Mass 2-1-1 provided on-site service in Lawrence to help people with information on claims and services in the first few weeks following the disaster. More recently, Mass 2-1-1 assisted callers identifying themselves as workers impacted by the partial government shutdown inquiring about food, rent and utility assistance.   

“Today we celebrate the assistance that Mass 2-1-1 has provided to people in each of our communities over the past year,” said Michael K. Durkin, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.  “In our region alone, in 2018 the 2-1-1 specialists answered nearly 76,500 calls as well as texts and web chats from people in need. Those calls were from people facing eviction notices, individuals contemplating suicide, families in crisis from a disaster and those looking for help with child care. At the same time, data from 2-1-1 provides critical insights into the needs facing people in our region.”

In the region served by United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, the largest number of calls and requests in 2018 were for assistance with child care and parenting (13,804 requests) , followed by mental health and addiction support (6,877), housing and shelter (5,582 requests) utility payments (2,280 requests), food assistance (1,576 requests) and help with employment and income (1,250 requests).

Requests for mental health and addiction support were up 24 percent from the number in 2017.  Requests for child care increased by 11 percent and requests for housing decreased by 6 percent.  

People call or search 2-1-1 looking for resources to meet basic needs, like heating or utility assistance, shelter, emergency help, child care or to find the closest food pantry. They also call for everyday important non-emergency needs, such as developmental screening for a child, home health care for a relative, job training or free tax filing support.

What happens when you call Mass2-1-1? When you dial 2-1-1 (a free call), the call is routed to a trained information and referral specialist, who helps identify your need(s), then refers you to relevant human services, health or education resources from a comprehensive database. For example, in the case of a worker who has recently been laid off or whose hours have been reduced, the 2-1-1 specialist may share information about unemployment benefits, job search options, food stamps, food pantries, mortgage or rent help, utility assistance, counseling and other available resources.

Recently, United Way’s Call2Talk Mental Health/Suicide Prevention line has become part of the state-wide 2-1-1 platform and can be accessed from anywhere in the Commonwealth by just dialing 2-1-1. The mission of Mass 2-1-1 is to ensure that Massachusetts residents get correct and helpful information the first time they call.  Mass 2-1-1 s a program of the United Ways of Massachusetts and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The free service complements United Way’s work to increase financial opportunity for individuals and families in need in Massachusetts.  In addition to providing financial emergency assistance through its Family Fund, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley funds high-performing community-based organizations providing job training and placements, budget coaching and credit-building, and affordable housing and homelessness prevention.