Essential services for our community are in danger, and it is 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 connect to essential community services like emergency housing assistance, meal delivery or transportation.
But here’s the thing: County personnel officials want to fundamentally change how 2-1-1 works, taking it out of the hands of our community and leaving control to big business.
For the past 40 years, the 2-1-1 hotline here in LA County has been operated by a non-profit organization, 211 LA, which understands our community because it are our community. The staff at 211 LA is predominantly female and overwhelmingly made up of people of color. This matters because low-income women of color with school-aged children are the most likely people to call 2-1-1.
As a board member of 211 LA, I can tell you how special this organization is and how many people in our community it has helped. Each year, 211 LA connects 400,000 people to the services they need for homelessness, food insecurity, health and mental health issues, legal issues and more. And during COVID, 211 LA nearly doubled that number, growing rapidly to provide essential information about public health, program enrollment, appointment scheduling and more.
All of this is possible because when you call 2-1-1, you are talking to a real human being in Los Angeles. However, under the changes currently proposed by the county, a significant portion of 2-1-1 services could be automated by a giant faceless corporation. This means that someone calling 2-1-1 would be much 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 make it through, the fact that a big company is running 2-1-1 means the person on the other end of the line probably won’t understand their needs because they don’t understand our community. .
211 LA, the current 2-1-1 organization, has roots here. Each 211 L staff member A cares about each caller as if he knew them personally. 211 LA operates from a place of love and empathy, not from a place of profit and greed.
Ultimately, you have to ask yourself: when times are tough, who really cares about you? A business or the community?
Now more than ever, we need strong community services to help us when we need it. Between the rising cost of housing, the COVID-19 pandemic, the violence on our streets, and so much uncertainty, the last thing we need is to hand over the responsibility of our safety net to a big corporation.
LA County still has time to reverse this mistake and keep 211 LA as the county’s sole operator of 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 LA City Council‘s Redistricting Commission and currently serves on the Board of Governors of the California Community College System.