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Westchester's 211 Helpline Seeks Help To Expand 24/7 Service

Officials at the announcement.
Officials at the announcement. Photo Credit: Christian Arrango

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- After a decade and more than 391,693 calls to its Hudson Valley 211 helpline, United Way of Westchester and Putnam is seeking help to expand the service 24/7.

At a 10th anniversary celebration Thursday in White Plains, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and his Putnam County counterpart, MaryEllen Odell, joined local elected officials and community leaders in calling for support to extend the operation’s hours.

The center’s trained staffers field questions about food assistance, housing assistance, homeless shelters, substance abuse, suicide prevention, government regulations and other issues.

It operates 365 days a year, seven days a week, but only from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., except during declared emergencies, when it can switch into 24-hour mode.

During the Hurricane Sandy disaster, United Way fielded nearly 28,000 calls and opened its facilities as an evacuation center, according to the nonprofit’s president and CEO, Alana Sweeney.

The service costs United Way $867, 535 a year, and the group is seeking donations and pledges to raise the estimated $150,000 extra it will cost to operate around the clock.

Sixty-six percent of the helpline’s budget comes from individual donors and foundation grants, United Way reported. The remainder funded through service contracts with state and local governments.

The helpline is “a valuable service that saves lives,” Odell said, adding that a third of all the Putnam 211calls are from people with mental health and substance-abuse problems--“people looking for help who did not know where else to turn.”

“Westchester has a wealth of resources, and they are most effective when people know about them,” said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. “As a public-private partnership, the United Way 2-1-1 program is an efficient link to services that meet the needs of Westchester residents, while leaving police, who otherwise would be fielding many of these calls, to respond to emergencies. It’s good government at work.”

Christian Arango is a member of Purchase College’s Community Reporting team.

Shown in the photo are, from left: Peter Harckham, Assistant Director NYS Office of Community Renewal; Michael Piazza, Commissioner of the Putnam County Departments of Mental Health; Alana Sweeny, President and CEO of United Way Westchester and Putnam; Rob Astorino Westchester County Executive; MaryEllen Odell, Putnam County Executive; and Michael Kaplowitz, Chair of the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

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