NC 2-1-1 Answers the Call Throughout COVID-19 Pandemic
At what point do you stop being a hotel guest and become a tenant?
This question has been on many North Carolinian’s minds for months as eviction freezes and moratoriums on new eviction proceedings have taken effect in response to COVID-19. These freezes were put in place to protect tenants with federally backed mortgage loans as well as tenants living in federal affordable housing.
While renters or homeowners are known as conventional tenants, hundreds of North Carolina families and thousands of students statewide live in long-term motel housing, which they seek out because criminal records and financial situations prevent them from passing background checks or securing deposits needed for permanent housing. While these eviction freezes have protected many conventional tenants, vulnerable long-term motel residents suddenly found themselves wondering whether they were afforded the same protections.
Knowing the answer could help keep people off the streets and prevent a public health crisis because a large influx of new homeless residents can exacerbate the strain on local health and shelter systems. As NC 211 State Director Heather Black explains, it also saves communities money.
“[These counties] were using local community dollars and just paying these hotel bills because they knew they didn’t want these people to end up on the streets.”
NC 211 has been helping to address emergencies like this since they were activated as part of the State Emergency Response Team (SERT) on March 18th. As part of this activation, they have brought on fifty additional call specialists, including contractors and volunteers, to help with the dramatic increase in calls as residents seek out information related to COVID-19. Since March 18th, NC 211 has responded to over 9,000 requests from Triangle area residents and nearly 70,000 calls statewide. During that same timespan last year, 211 recorded only 2,600 calls in the Triangle.
Many of the calls they’ve received during the current pandemic have been related to motel housing and eviction freezes. Because their team is embedded on the state level, NC 211 was able to escalate the issue to the North Carolina Attorney General and receive clarification that long-term motel residents are in fact tenants and therefore have the same rights as renters and mortgage-holders.
“To me that’s one of the greatest outcomes of 211, and it happens in every disaster, is that we can really advocate for our callers, said Black.”
NC 211 – the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 day a year information and referral service provided by the United Way of North Carolina with support from United Way chapters state-wide – has also played a vital role in advocating on behalf of some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens who faced these challenges at the beginning of COVID-19. Outside the pandemic, NC 211 has been helping North Carolina residents confidentially and free of charge since 1998. Residents can call 211 to find over 19,000 local resources for just about anything. Common calls tackle questions like “where is the closest homeless shelter to me?” or “where can I find a low-cost meal?”
The most frequent callers’ needs typically deal with issues surrounding housing, food, and utilities. COVID-19, however, has led to a sizeable increase in calls dealing with public health issues, such as how to get tested or what rules must be followed under quarantine.
What makes 211 more than just an informational assistance service is that each caller is provided personalized information for every community across the state.
Heather Black explains that “We’re not just giving [callers] a phone number, we’re saying okay the food pantry nearest you is pantry ABC. It’s open Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from nine to eleven. You’re going to have to take this kind of documentation. If you don’t have transportation this [other pantry] is actually closer to the bus stop.”
The increase in demand hasn’t stopped NC 211 from expanding. Later this summer the service will launch a cybercrime initiative with the help of a statewide grant, designating 211 the number to call if you suspect you have been the victim of a cybercrime. Other future endeavors include programs to address post-COVID homelessness and the establishment of an emergency housing fund.
Ultimately, Heather Black understands that trust and empathy are what makes the 211 system so effective at helping people. “…leveraging the United Way name, leveraging that dialing code, using the skill set that we bring to our call specialists, who are empathetic and have this training and are not just trying to get you off the phone, it’s very effective.”
More about NC 211:
NC 211 is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. All calls are free, confidential, and available in most languages.
NC 211, administered by United Way of North Carolina with the support of United Ways across North Carolina, serves as an extensive resource to connect North Carolinians to thousands of programs and services statewide, including housing resources, food access, energy assistance, parenting resources, healthcare, and substance abuse. NC 211’s trained call specialists can also assist older adults and persons with disabilities with specific resources.
For more information please check out NC211.org