MANATEE -- A 24-hour, seven-day-a-week referral service is available to Manatee County residents troubled by missed rent payments and homelessness, hunger or health-care dilemmas.
But too few know about it, officials say.
It's called the 211 system, similar to its phone sibling for help with all emergencies, 911.
"It would help our citizens get some assistance that already exists," said Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who convened a meeting in her office Wednesday to spotlight the Sarasota-based phone referral service, which last year handled nearly 62,000 calls and contacts.
"We should figure out a way to educate the public, the medical community and other services," Whitmore said.
Representatives of United Way of Manatee County; Turning Points, formerly known as the Community Coalition on Homelessness; and the county Human Services Division attended the meeting.
"Everybody recognizes the need for something like this," said Adell Erozer, executive director at Turning Points, which operates the
Galvano One Stop Center for the needy, 701 17th Ave. W., Bradenton.
Turning Points struggles to publish and update a handy English-Spanish booklet called "The Path Directory of Homeless Services for Manatee County Resident" in connection with the 211 program, she said.
The directory lists nearly 200 agencies, charities, churches and other organizations that help those in need.
Its topics include housing and assistance for the homeless, clothing, counseling, education, employment aid, food, furniture, health care, prescription assistance, and legal and veterans' services. A directory on the Internet is at uw211manasota.net.
The booklet and online directory provide an opportunity to help people without the county investing in new resources, said Philip Brown III, president of United Way.
"How to better connect people with what we already have?" said Brown.
Whitmore said even nurses at the Manatee Memorial Hospital emergency room told her they had never heard about 211. Everybody at the meeting agreed it could be marketed better.
"Lots of services could be added to it like elder care," Erozer said, noting her organization publishes and updates the booklet periodically, but on a shoestring and without any assured source of money to do so.
The 2111 service operates on an annual $500,000 budget with money from a variety of sources, including Manatee and Sarasota counties, various United Way organizations and others, said Jessica Ventimiglia, executive director of 211 Manasota Inc.
Its professional counselors help those in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties by screening requests from callers and recommending help through 800 different agencies operating 2,000 programs, she said.
Told about Manatee officials' hopes to publicize 211 services, she said: "We could use all the help we can get."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.