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Calls to United Way housing hot line increase during year

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 12:25 a.m.

Calls to PA 2-1-1 Southwest, a free human services hot line for those seeking help with utilities, rent and other needs, rose by 21 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the United Way.

The hot line, which serves residents of Allegheny, Westmoreland, Butler, Washington, Fayette, Armstrong and Mercer counties, took 31,694 calls in 2012, up by 20 percent from the 26,289 calls in 2011.

The service is subsidized by United Way agencies covering those counties, at an annual cost of about $350,000.

Calls for housing or shelter were most common, at 29 percent, according to a 2-1-1 report, with utilities at 25 percent. Other calls included requests for individual and family support, tax help, financial assistance, material goods and food.

“(The program) means 24-hour access to someone to call for when you're trying to navigate what is a very difficult system to navigate,” said Leslie Osche, executive director of the United Way of Butler County. “You're connected to services faster. It points you in the right direction instead of making seven calls to get the help.”

Butler County began using the line in July 2011. For the last six months of 2011, the county had 103 calls; calls totaled 398 in 2012.

Osche said the 2-1-1 line should help reduce non-emergency calls to the county's 911 center.

“Most times, when people call, the problem they're calling about is just the tip of the iceberg, and not the real issue,” Osche said. “They might be calling for a utility, and it ends up being a person living in a home that's falling down around them, or someone who has been unemployed for a long time.”

Osche said the 2-1-1 line can link volunteers to help seniors prepare their taxes, and expand into other areas, such as helping with preschool and kindergarten registration.

The United Way of Butler County will hold a mandatory training session March 7 for human service agencies or programs who want to apply for United Way grant funding using a new online grant application system. The training will include sessions for agencies that must register or update information in the 2-1-1 database.

Grant training and 2-1-1 training sessions will be held simultaneously in the Butler County Community College computer labs. Sessions will be from 1 to 2:15 and 2:30 to 3:45 p.m.

A maximum of 25 people may attend each session. Participants may attend both training sessions in one day.

The deadline to register for the training is Friday. For details or to request a registration form, call the United Way at 724-285-4883, or email impact@butlerunitedway.org.

The Web site for PA 2-1-1 Southwest is www.pa211sw.org.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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