211 CNY is the call center for five counties in central and northern New York that connects people with basic needs. Their call volume has increased significantly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March. Access to food and paying bills are among the main concerns.
There have been more calls to 211 in the last two weeks of March than they usually receive in a month. Katie Lemery-White, the program manager, said there was an increased level of anxiety in the greatest number of calls, and a concern is where some people are going to get food.
“These are people who don’t normally have a problem going to the grocery store, seniors who are afraid to go out, low-income people who worry about where they are going to find their next meal,” said Lemery -White.
After Onondaga County had its first case of coronavirus, County Director Ryan McMahon asked 211 to set up a telephone line specially for people 55 and over, to get meals delivered to their homes, developing this that Meals on Wheels is already doing. Lemery-White said that she had helped recruit people for this program.
“They could go to a community eating place, maybe they could run errands, but due to the current situation, they are getting really confined to the house,” said Lemery-White. “Their normal support may not be available.”
She said they also receive a lot of calls for financial assistance.
“Many people have lost their jobs as a result of this pandemic and they are trying to claim unemployment and there are concerns about it because so many people are applying at the same time,” said Lemery-White.
Calling 211 can provide you with information about expanded unemployment benefits and the New York State 90-day moratorium on evictions.
“They will have to pay back the rent or mortgage,” said Lemery-White. “But for now, so they can focus, if they need to use their money to get food, we want them to do it and they know they’re going to have a place to stay. “
Public services are also suspending their closings. 211 is managed by Contact Community Services, which started as a crisis hotline. Lemery-White said that fear is an underlying part of almost all of the calls they receive right now.
“There is a lot of comfort we do,” she said. “Lots of listening to what people are going through, trying to provide that connection. Even if they can’t leave their home, they know there is someone there. They can smell someone else in the room, another presence, support, so they’re not alone. “
Even after the crisis has ended, there will still be many needs in the community and 211 will continue to be there to help people find new normalcy.