"We are able to steer those folks who need help to those agencies that can provide that help," Engel said.
Indeed, based on Connect2Help surveys, 84 percent of their callers do contact at least one referral provided to them. Of those 73 percent report improvement in their situation. Of all 211 calls, 8 percent are recorded as having their needs unmet. But aside from having no resources for that specific need, the other main reasons for this are the caller isn't eligible for assistance or the call is interrupted, usually because a cell phone is cut off or the caller hangs up.
Connect2Help's phone operators aren't just trained in referrals but also crisis situations. The latter was added when 211 service went 24/7.
"When you answer that phone, you never know exactly what you're going to hear," said Ron Guidotti, a phone room supervisor who's worked at 211 about four years.
Some calls can be quite serious. Guidotti took one from a man on a Friday morning once. He was standing on a bridge and had run out of reasons not to jump. Once Guidotti determined the man had made up his mind, he was able to ask enough questions to pinpoint his whereabouts and get police there.
Other calls can be much more general.
"I actually had a lady who needed help plugging in her answering machine because she had no idea and no one to ask," Guidotti said.
All calls are confidential unless specific information is needed in order to determine what referral is needed. One of 211's biggest partnerships now is the Domestic Violence Network. Officials thought a three-digit phone number would be easier to remember in such a situation. Julie Marsh, DVN's president and CEO, says 211's impact has been immeasurable.