February 18, 2019
Demands on Human Services Nonprofits Continue to Grow

February 17, 2017 — Despite a drop in calls last year in Greater Boston to Mass 2-1-1, a free health and human service referral phone line, suggesting that fewer people need assistance, the opposite is more likely, reflecting growing demands on human services nonprofits in Massachusetts.

United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley based in Boston, recently reported a 14% drop in calls to Mass 2-1-1, 42,989 calls for assistance in the Greater Boston, Merrimack Valley, North Shore, and South Shore regions of Massachusetts in 2016, down from 49,999 in 2015.

Two factors may explain the decrease, according to a United Way spokesperson: in 2016 requests could be submitted via chat and text services; and Mass 2-1-1 specialists were handling more complex calls, for example, multiple requests for different types of services on a single call.

Calls in 2016 overwhelmingly focused on accessing help for basic needs, including assistance with child care, housing and shelter, utility payments, food assistance and employment, and income help, according to the United Way.

Mass 2-1-1 receives more than 110,000 calls annually statewide and responds to more than 250,000 web queries from people in Massachusetts seeking resources.

Michael Weekes, president and CEO of the Boston-based Providers' Council, a statewide association of health and human service agencies, recently said an aging population combined with advances in health care that, for example, enable people with autism and those with brain injuries to live longer, are increasing demands on social services nonprofits.

United Ways across Massachusetts operate Mass 2-1-1 in conjunction with state government, including Berkshire United Way in Pittsfield, Cape and Islands United Way in Hyannis, United Way of Franklin County in Greenfield, United Way of Pioneer Valley in Springfield, and United Way of Tri-County in Framingham.

According to Mass 2-1-1 CEO Paul Mina, “the collaboration between the United Way and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts allows Mass 2-1-1 to access stable resources sufficient enough to continue this vital service well into the future”.

This month marked the 20th anniversary of 2-1-1 nationally, recognizing this free, online system that serves 90% of America's population, and connects some 16 million people a year to critical resources, information and services.

“No family in crisis should ever be more than one phone call away from help,” said Michael Durkin, president of United Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley. “2-1-1 makes referrals to assistance easier because information about all of the state’s available resources can be accessed through one phone call. The data also provides community and state officials with critical insights into the needs that families are facing in our region.”

In the regions served by United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, the largest number of calls and requests inn 2016 were for assistance with child care (7,209 requests) , followed by housing and shelter (4,265 requests) utility payments (1,525 requests), food assistance (1,186 requests) and help with employment and income (1,091 requests).

When someone calls 2-1-1 (a free call), the call is routed to a trained information and referral specialist, who helps identify the need and then refers the caller to relevant human services, health, or education resources from a comprehensive database.

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