United Way 211 Helplink sees huge spike in calls since coronavirus outbreak

United Way 211
Posted at 7:13 AM, Jun 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 19:31:47-04

CLEVELAND — Even before the coronavirus outbreak, at least 3,000 people a week would call United Way of Greater Cleveland’s 211 Helplink looking for assistance with a wide range of issues.

In the first few weeks of the outbreak, that call volume doubled, with three times as many people looking for help putting food on the table.

Food Bank

“One thing it did do is shine a light on social services and what 211 does,” said 211 Director Franco Formichelli.

Normally, a bustling room full of navigators answer calls at the United Way’s downtown offices. Those navigators have been working from home because of the virus, but their phones have still been ringing off the hook.

“You can call 211 for anything,” said Formichelli. “We’ve helped individuals get a photo ID because they need a photo ID to get this, that, and the other thing.”

United Way 211

Those navigators direct callers to other organizations who can help them get assistance with utility bills, food, rent and mortgage payments, and more.

The need has continued to grow.

Earlier in June, more than 17,000 households relied on a food distribution set up by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank at the Muni Lot.

The most recent data shows there are 788,000 Ohioans applying for unemployment and News 5 found that there are 71,731 claims that still haven’t been processed.

An Ohio workers files for unemployment benefits.

“There was some expectation that we would see a tsunami of evictions,” said United Way of Greater Cleveland Vice President of Community Impact Nancy Mendez.

Mendez says Cuyahoga County’s $6.8 million pledge to help renters pay their rent is holding off much of that tsunami. Similar but smaller steps in neighboring counties are helping, too.

But paying the rent is often just one in a long list of problems to solve for people who are struggling through the pandemic and the restrictions it has made necessary.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, if anything, highlights the real struggles and disparities that we already see in our community,” said Mendez.

Because the need is still growing, United Way 211 lines across the state expanded into 37 previously-uncovered counties.

In Northeast Ohio, the original coverage area of Allen, Belmont, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lawrence, Medina and Ross counties now includes Coshocton, Crawford, Darke, Erie, Huron, Van Wert and Wyandot.

Formichelli says there are discussions now to make that expansion permanent if the United Way can secure the proper funding.

Rent and Mortgages are due next week. News 5 and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland are teaming up with United Way to help connect you with resources if you’ve fallen on hard times due to the coronavirus crisis on Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. You can also call 211 to be connected to people and organizations who can help.

When you call 211, be sure to have ID, proof of income, and proof of what you owe in rent.

This story is part of The Rebound: Northeast Ohio, News 5's initiative to help people through the financial impact of the coronavirus by offering one place to go for information on everything available to help and how to access it. We're providing resources on:

Getting Back to Work - Learn about the latest job openings, how to file for benefits and succeed in the job market.

Making Ends Meet - Find help on topics from rent to food to new belt-tightening techniques.

Managing the Stress - Feeling isolated or frustrated? Learn ways to connect with people virtually, get counseling or manage your stress.

Doing What's Right - Keep track of the way people are spending your tax dollars and treating your community.