I have to crunch data on public services a lot. A great place to begin that search is sometimes 211counts.org. It’s here that one can access 211 counts data to find a wealth of information on what exactly people need within a particular locale.
I was still working at an Area Agency on Aging at the time 211 was under development. It seemed like it was taking forever. My staff were helping work on the taxonomies of services that would help feed the database for anyone answering the public’s calls in search of services.
But just what exactly is 211, to begin with? Did you even know it was a phone number?
What is 211?
Everybody in America knows that if you’re in trouble, you call 911 to summon emergency responders. Few know about calling 211, though.
211 is a number that individuals can call to access free information and get connected to resources. It is managed by the FCC and calls are answered by social service agencies.
Created in 2000 by George W. Bush, this program utilizes United Way, Goodwill, Community Action Partnerships, and others to man call centers throughout the nation.
Just like a 911 call, a 211 call is routed by the local phone company into the nearest regional 211 call center. Once connected, the caller will be able to request information on a wide range of topics. Some of the things that a 211 call can help with include:
• Adult daycare
• After school programs
• Clothing banks
• Community meals
• Crisis intervention services
• Drug and alcohol intervention
• Education programs
• Financial assistance
• Food banks
• Health insurance programs
• Home health care
• Homemaker services
• Job training
• Low-income family education programs
• Maternal health resources
• Medical information lines
• Rent assistance
• Respite care
• Suicide prevention
• Summer camps
• Support groups
• Transportation assistance
• Utility assistance
As can be seen, there is a very wide range of issues related to social services that 211 can help with. Many of the social service agencies answering these calls could also be those, or refer to those, agencies that we identify in our state resources page.
What Data is Available?
The predominant data that’s going to be available via 211counts.org is related to the number of calls that were made for a particular need. Sure, there’s some demographic information as well regarding the percentage of male and female callers for particular needs, but overall, it’s the number of calls that were made for housing, healthcare insurance, or dental care that one is going to be sifting through here.
This isn’t to say that the data is repetitive or useless, though. There is much that can be gleaned here. But before we delve into what we can use this data for, let us first examine how to interpret it…
How to Sort Through the Data
At first glance, sorting through 211 counts data within the website can be a bit overwhelming, so let’s see if we can’t break things down piece by piece. For starters, on the home page is a simple map of the United States. It looks just like this:
Not all of the states within the US are accounted for within this map. For instance, you’ll notice that Montana and Oklahoma are different colors compared to the rest of the states on the map. This is because there is no data on these regions available.
Some states, such as Idaho, are a lighter shade of green. As such, you can’t search any of these areas either. If the state is dark green though, you’ll be able to find plenty of data to begin your search with.
For this instance, we’ll examine the state of Georgia. All one must do is hover over the state of Georgia, click, and then we’ll be presented with a wealth of information. The home page of all this data will look something like this:
All right, so now we have something that we can work with. As you can see, all of this data is generated for Northeast, Georgia. That’s indicated in the top left of the screen. In the top right, I can see the total number of calls and requests that came from this region as well.
Here, we have 4,067 calls that were made to 211 and 7,019 requests that came from those 4067 callers. So, we don’t have a lot of callers within this region needing 211 assistance. Let’s take a closer look at the top service requests…
Right now, I have the top service requests set for the total count. This means that out of our 7,038 requests, 3,232 were made within the past year for assistance with housing and shelter, 1,237 were for utilities, and 385 were related to healthcare and COVID-19.
I can also toggle to change how this display looks. If I click the ‘percent’ bubble at the top of the chart I end up with a chart that looks something like this:
So, 45.9% of all 211 calls made in Northeast, Georgia within the past 12 months were for housing and shelter. You can see within this box that I have the ‘Healthcare and COVID-19’ section highlighted. This can be done by simply clicking on any of the above regions. When this is done, the chart immediately to the right will update to reflect the breakdown of this region.
We can now see that the majority of all the 211 calls which had to do with healthcare revolved around dental and eye care (accounting for 21.3% of all calls). By looking at the far right of the table we can see that 28% of these calls were unmet. This means that 28% of all the 211 calls that came into Northeast, Georgia within the past year weren’t able to actually help people with getting dental or vision care.
But what else can we glean from this data?
Well, let’s say that we’re interested in learning more about health insurance. If (in the above chart where all the healthcare 211 calls are delineated) we click the ‘Health insurance’ bar of the chart, we can see the top 10 zip codes within this region which requested information on health insurance from 211.
You can see that zip code 30567 was the #1 ranking spot here.
You’ll also see below this that there’s a graph comprised of two lines. These two lines show us how things have compared between the current year and the previous year for the region that we are interested in.
For example, if I was looking at the ‘financial assistance’ sub-column, I can see that there wasn’t as much interest in this for 2021 as there was in 2020. This is likely due to the lockdowns that America went through in March of that year. Due to many people being out of work, we can see that there was a drastic spike in the number of 211 calls fielded concerning financial help.
Let’s look at another example. Here we can see the requests by time for health insurance. We can also see that this is a rather messy-looking graph with a lot of play, back and forth.
And, what if we search for more population data within a particular zip code? That can easily be found by examining the interactive map to the left of the screen. It looks like this:
Here, zip code 30643 is highlighted in dark purple, and we can see the population data from this region. There were fewer than five 211 calls that came from this area, 27.1% of this zip code lives in poverty, 4.7% of this zip code is unemployed, and 26.2% of them live in rental housing.
As can be seen, there’s a wealth of data that can be gleaned from 211counts.org.
What Can the Data Be Used For?
There are a wide host of things this data can be used for.
211 Counts Data – Crafting Charity Programs that Work
For starters, consider your local church. Let’s say you regularly attend a Baptist church in your region. The church wants to help the community it is a part of and is looking for a way in which it can assist those who are in need.
There are a myriad of ways to do this, but the church really wants to narrow its focus to do the most good with the resources that are available. So, let’s say in this case the church has seen the above-mentioned data on the number of dental and vision 211 calls within North East, Georgia.
The church now knows that these are areas in which members of their community need help. And so, perhaps the church organizes a glasses benefit, and rather than opening up a food bank, they open up a “glasses bank” to some of the poorer sections of their community who wouldn’t be able to get glasses otherwise. Even if these glasses are simply “readers”, the 211 callers could still receive substantial benefits.
So, as we can see, organizing charity is one of the biggest reasons one may want to examine the 211 counts data.
Grant Writing with 211 Counts Data
Preparing for grant writing is another reason that one may want to consider checking out 211 counts data. Perhaps a hospital system is seeking a grant to open its new vision care center in a poorer neighborhood. They may also need plenty of statistical proof that the desired location of the clinic is in true need of such a facility.
There will be several other grant applicants competing for this money simultaneously. So, how does one win the grant? A large part of this comes from demonstrating need. And, in turn, demonstrating need can come about from solid statistical evidence, which can be found through 211 Counts.
Using 211 Counts Data for Policy Creation
Particularly within the government setting, 211 counts data can be used to help craft public policy. Let’s say one works for the local city hall and is looking for a simple means of determining if the new sidewalk system and pedestrian bridge are permitting people easier access to the local healthcare clinic.
The roads in the area are incredibly busy and not everybody has a car. Many will be forced to walk to their doctor’s appointments as a result. But if there are no sidewalks, this may be A) too dangerous, or B) too inconvenient.
Moving forward, once the sidewalks are completed, the politician can then look at the number of calls to 211 that were regarding doctors’ visits both before and after the sidewalks were built.
Perhaps he’ll see a drastic drop in the number of calls to 211 within that zip code. Perhaps not. But either way, 211 counts data can help him to determine whether the policy was successful (at least, to some degree).
Of course, there will be other metrics that will need to be accounted for rather than just the 211 calls within a region, but this data can be used to help formulate a stronger case that, yes, Policy A did indeed work.
Final Thoughts on 211 Counts
There is a wide number of reasons that somebody may end up calling 211. Perhaps they’re concerned with being unable to pay their rent. Maybe they’re trying to figure out how they’re going to pay their electric bill this month. Perhaps they’re simply looking for effective math tutors for their high schooler so that he doesn’t get held back another year.
Whatever the reason, it’s been cataloged after the call has been made, and this data is readily available to the public. This, in turn, allows the public to figure out ways in which they can help their communities so that those in need have ready access to necessary services and don’t have to turn to government programs to get them.
So, check out 211Counts.org. You may find that there’s a large segment of seniors in your region who are shut-ins, in need of meals, rides, and conversation.
Too many times people begin to fall for the lie that their job was their purpose. That after they retired, they lost their value – becoming useless. This is not the case. There is still work to be done, people to be helped, and things to be accomplished. Diving into the 211 counts data for your community may be an avenue for you to figure out a way to help your neighbors.