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Volunteers Raise Awareness About 211

For Mountain Viewers who've fallen on tough times, the county's service number can be a lifeline.

Some people have emergencies that 911 can't help with, and that's where 211 comes in.

If you lost your home, can't pay your bills or don't have enough food to eat, residents in Santa Clara County can call 211, a free and confidential telephone number that connects callers to local services like food, housing, employment services and child care. On Friday, volunteers from United Way of Silicon Valley, which administers the program in the county, and Mountain View's Community Services Agency (CSA) hit the streets of Mountain View to raise awareness about the 211.

"211 is a great way for people to access social services," said Tom Myers, executive director of CSA, a referral agency of 211. "If [people] are new to Mountain View and are looking for something, this will get you connected to us."

In a pilot outreach program, a dozen volunteers from CSA and United Way canvassed the areas of Mountain View bordered by Shoreline Boulevard, California Street, Latham Avenue and Ortega Street. Three hundred brochures were distributed to homes and apartments that informed households about the benefits of 211.

"What we need are more volunteers to go into local communities," said Kim Ferm, director of the 24/7 hour, 211 hotline in Santa Clara County. "The penetration goal is to reach 5 percent of the 1.8 million county population."

According to Ferm, it usually takes a program like 211 five to seven years to mature and reach that penetration, which in the county would be 90,000 people. In 2010, 211 received 25,126 calls from people in the county, of which 7,767 were for help with housing and utilities.

Of those calls 3 percent, a total of 727, came from residents in Mountain View and, again, the highest calls were for help with housing and utilities. Those callers were referred to 21 agencies headquartered in Mountain View.

The program, which began four years ago, costs $740,000 to operate, according to Ferm. The county contributes $150,000, as do Mountain View and nine other cities in the county. However, they depend on volunteers and donations to help with outreach.

Next year, Ferm said, she hopes to have more volunteers to help tell more people about 211.

"I think we are doing well, but we could do more," she said.

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