Across Pennsylvania, many residents in need of help over the past year sought it out and continue to do so. While our preference would be for the numbers of people calling the United Way’s PA 211 hotline to drop, it’s good to know that when it was needed most — in the heart of the pandemic — its been there to help.

According to the United Way’s state office, more than 260,000 people called or texted the organization’s free social services and human services hotline in 2020. More than 170,000 residents also reviewed PA 211’s community resource database online. The combined number looking at services in 2019, pre-pandemic, was 288,000.

For many it was a new need. They needed help and sought it out when jobs were lost and funding became tight. Of the people calling PA 211 last year, 70,000 were first-time callers who never had to ask for help before the pandemic.

PA 211 is the free, confidential, 24/7/365 service that connects Pennsylvanians with all the health and human services in their area that are available to help. It is used for housing and rental assistance, mental health help, child care, employment services and other services to fill in gaps.

Across the Valley, 2,990 people sought help through the 211 program. Nearly half of the aid sought was for housing and rental assistance, state data show.

In Montour County, 51.6 percent of those who reached out to 211 were interested in housing assistance, with 16.1 percent looking for help with food and 8.8 percent utilities. Housing assistance was also the top item in Snyder County (45.9 percent), Northumberland County (45.8 percent) and Union County (45.5 percent). Food assistance was second or tied for second in all three counties as well with help with utility payments tied with food assistance in Snyder and Union counties.

“It’s definitely COVID-related,” said Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way President/CEO Joanne Troutman. “We anticipated people were stuck at home and unable to access resources. It was a key contact for us when we were trying to find services for people. I think it’s only going to go up as time goes on.”

A year into the pandemic, housing and shelter requests continue to rise. In January, 12,669 requested housing help, the highest figure, more than double the figure last January, said Kristen Rotz, who is president of the United Way of Pennsylvania and executive director of PA 211.

To reach PA 211, dial 211 from your phone or text your ZIP code to 898-211. A guided search for community resources is also available at www.pa211.org.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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