A new crisis hotline is debuting today in Collier County.
Residents can now call “211” — an information and referral service where operators, cross-trained as crisis counselors, will answer calls around the clock.
The operators will listen to callers’ needs and provide them with information and referrals to social service agencies, charities, child-care programs, churches and other entities that provide essential services. The operators will be multilingual.
An alternative to the 211 call center is a website, www.collier211.org, which also will start today to provide a searchable database of local programs.
All programs must meet eligibility guidelines to be listed, which includes that services are offered for free or at a reduced rate to the neediest, said Mary George, special projects director with the Community Foundation of Collier County.
Offering the 211 service has been an ambitious project for civic leaders who have wanted for some time to provide residents and visitors with a real-time referral system to social service programs.
The community foundation has steered the project to fruition and will manage it for three years until an endowment is established to sustain the program thereafter, said Dolly Roberts, immediate past chairwoman of the foundation’s board of directors.
The Federal Communications Commission in 2000 reserved the 211 dialing codes for community information and referral services, similar to how 911 is for emergencies. The foundation signed a three-year contract with the nonprofit Switchboard of Miami, the largest tele-referral service organization in the state, to answer the Collier 211 calls.
All of Switchboard Miami’s operators, referred to as crisis counselors, have been trained to respond to calls from Collier.
The number of counselors answering calls depends on the time of day, the day of the week and time of year when volume fluctuates, she said.
“We have as many as 40 crisis operators and we can expand up to 60,” she said.