Essential services for our community are at risk, and it’s up to us to save them.
When times get tough or when our neighbors need a helping hand, Los Angeles County residents can dial 2-1-1 to get connected to essential community services like emergency housing assistance, meal delivery or transportation.
But here’s the deal: county staff officials want to fundamentally change the way 2-1-1 works by taking it out of the hands of our community and instead putting big corporations in control.
For the last 40 years, the 2-1-1 hotline here in LA County has been run by a non-profit organization, 211 LA, that understands our community because they are our community. The staff at 211 LA is majority female and majority people of color. That’s important because low-income women of color with school-aged children are the most likely individuals to call 2-1-1.
As a board member at 211 LA, I can tell you how special this organization is and how many people in our community they’ve helped. Every year, 211 LA connects 400,000 people with the services they need related to homelessness, food insecurity, health and mental health challenges, legal issues and more. And during COVID, 211 LA nearly doubled that number, ramping up quickly to provide critical public health information, program enrollments, appointment scheduling and more.
All of this is possible because when you call 2-1-1, you talk to a real human being in Los Angeles. Under the county’s current proposed changes, however, a significant portion of 2-1-1 services could become automated by a giant, faceless corporation. That means someone calling 2-1-1 would be far more likely to get stuck in an automated menu, pressing button after button without ever getting the services they actually need.
And even when someone does get through, having a big corporation running 2-1-1 means that the person on the other line likely won’t understand their needs because they don’t understand our community.
211 LA, the current organization running 2-1-1, has roots here. Every staff member at 211 L A cares about each caller as if they know them on a personal basis. 211 LA operates from a place of love and empathy, not from a place of profit and greed.
Ultimately, you have to ask: when times are hard, who really cares about you? A corporation or the community?
Now more than ever, we need strong community services to help us out when we need it. Between the rising cost of housing, the COVID-19 pandemic, violence in our streets and so much uncertainty, the last thing we need is to put a big corporation in charge of our safety net.
LA County still has time to reverse this mistake and keep 211 LA as the sole operator of the county’s 2-1-1 services. Our community needs 211 LA.
Valerie Lynne Shaw is a former president of the Los Angeles Board of Public Works. She recently served on the L.A. City council Redistricting Commission, and currently serves on the Board of Governors for the California Community College System.