Pennsylvania-211 East is a free, non-emergency information and referral service designed to provide individuals in the community with resources to meet their needs.
The PA-211 service can be used by calling 211 or 855-567-5341, by texting 898211 to send your zip code to a live service provider or by live chatting on the program’s website.
The program, backed by United Way, has had over 40 years of experience providing Lehigh Valley community members with a range of services in areas such as crisis services, food, housing, clothing, financial assistance, legal assistance and mental health.
Priscilla Rosado, assistant director of Food Access & Emergency Services for the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, said the top three resources used before the pandemic were food, shelter and housing services.
However, since the pandemic started, she noticed a surge in calls from community members.
“The need for food, shelter and housing services hasn’t changed, but because many people have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, there was a sharp increase in the number of people who needed extra resources,” Rosado said.
Jennifer Moll, from New Bethany Ministries said they have over 600 applicants asking for rental assistance and for help with preventing evictions.
The CDC also recently declared that evictions cannot occur for past-due rent in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
She said this has become a problem for those who are looking for housing.
“What we’re now seeing is a bottleneck of people who aren’t being evicted, which is a good thing, but people who need housing are either having trouble finding it or can’t find it as quickly,” Moll said.
Rosado said that the pandemic changed everything.
For example, Rosado said the food pantries changed days and hours, as well as how food was given out to maintain safety measures and prevent people from entering their facilities.
“People can go online to find different resources and services, but there have been times where clients who call are on the phone for a few hours,” Moll said.
However, she said most people get through to PA-211’s services within 15 minutes.
Samantha Shaak, director of Community Innovation & Evaluation in the Community Health department at Lehigh Valley Health Network, said any system like PA-211 would have limitations because keeping many resources in one place is logistically challenging to manage.
“The community resources are always in flux because people don’t know what is available and how much of it is available, especially during the pandemic,” Shaak said.
The pandemic has also brought to attention a greater need for mental health services, said Rosado, especially for children who rely on school to get out of the house.
“Although we’ve all had to shift and make changes due to COVID-19, we are doing our best to make sure everything is updated and community members are getting the help they need,” Rosado said.
As United Way continues to do community outreach through PA-211, Rosado said they will make sure to spread the word about their system and provide enough materials to partner agencies until the pandemic subsides.
Shaak said PA-211 has become an important tool for Lehigh Valley Health Network and other health care workers to connect patients to community resources that can additionally address their social and health needs.
Although the system is designed for the community to use, she said it is also useful for local providers as a coordinated entry system in order to know where resources are most needed.
“Community providers in Lehigh Valley have meetings to make sure we’re all updated, and that’s what’s really great about 211,” Moll said. “Making sure the communication is there and making sure that everyone who can, can help the clients that call.”