In the News

A year into pandemic, an unprecedented number are calling 211 for help in Sarasota-Manatee

Updated on March 30th, 2021 Written by Turning Points

Angie DiMichele Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Requests logged by Suncoast 211 – which encompasses Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties – show unprecedented numbers of people are calling the helpline who are facing economic hardships since the start of the pandemic. The resources available have helped to stave off financial disasters for thousands, many of whom have never needed help before.

Catherine Rea, vice president for 211 at Heart of Florida United Way, said the contact center, which covers 14 counties including Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto, received four to five times its normal call volume within the first few months of the pandemic. Many had eviction notices in hand or were facing water or electricity shutoffs.

More than 4,300 people called for help in a single day, Rea said. That happened more than once.

“As people started to lose their employment or [were] furloughed, then the panic set in,” Rea said. 

Now, a year into the pandemic, the contact center still is receiving double the calls compared to before the pandemic, and while rent and utility assistance remain top priorities, some requests are shifting as the community continues to adapt to the virus. 

A lifeline for rent, utility assistance

The 211 helpline is at the center of what can be a complicated web of social services organizations in the greater Sarasota area, linking people to myriad agencies and programs through a simple phone call or text.

The requests coming into 211 are indicators of the community’s social needs, Rea said. The number of requests for assistance goes hand-in-hand with the percent of the population living in poverty. The bulk of the calls locally are from ZIP codes with 19% to 30% of the population in poverty.

The 211 Suncoast dashboard shows the number of requests in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties totaled nearly 8,000 in the last 90 days. A year ago, the total of logged requests for help was about 5,400 in the same 90-day period.

Read more about this on the Herald Tribune site and how Turning Points is helping the community here –