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The CNC produces journalism on a variety of topics in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties for about a dozen media partners including newspapers, radio and television stations and magazines.

211 helpline may shut down after Sarasota County cuts funding

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A phone service that helps Sarasota County residents find support in areas including housing, food insecurity, disaster relief and crisis support will end March 31 unless county commissioners reinstate their financial support, the local United Way says.

Last year, the helpline — which is open 24 hours a day — served 11,863 callers who received nearly 19,000 referrals to community services.

A phone service that helps Sarasota County residents find support in areas including housing, food insecurity, disaster relief and crisis support will end March 31 unless county commissioners reinstate their financial support, the local United Way says.

In a letter dated Feb. 29 to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and commissioners, United Way Suncoast CEO Jessica Muroff said her organization has been covering the cost for "211 Suncoast" since commissioners eliminated its $109,000 commitment for the program in September. The nonprofit operates the program in partnership with the county.

Logo says 211 - Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto Countes Get Connected. Get Help
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"United Way Suncoast has been paying the full cost to keep the services active while we worked through potential solutions. As we have been unable to identify an alternative funding source, all United Way Suncoast’s funding for 211 will be exhausted by March 31, 2024," the letter says.

The helpline is open 24 hours a day, staffed by trained professionals using an extensive database of local community resources.

Last year, it served 11,863 callers who received nearly 19,000 referrals to community services, according to United Way Suncoast.

The 211 Suncoast service will continue for Manatee and DeSoto counties, "but it cannot be sustained for Sarasota County without the county funding. The 211 model calls for a public-private model,” Muroff said.

If the service closes down, Muroff said all calls from Sarasota County will be referred to a ‘311’ non-emergency information line run by the county. Customer service representatives will only answers calls between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Mondays to Fridays.

“This is a critical community service that I never fathomed would be questioned or not funded by the county government,” Muroff wrote.

The Sarasota County Commission voted Sept. 12 to eliminate its $109,000 contribution to the program from the budget, despite recommendations from staff.

"Although 211 received one of the highest overall application scores from HSAC (Human Services Advisory Council), the breadth and variety of services it encompasses do not neatly align with the new evaluation criteria approved by the Commission, which heavily weighs performance in a single category," Muroff wrote.

United Way Suncoast contributes $157,000 for the helpline’s operation, Muroff said.

Muroff says the County's 311 information line will not be able to provide the same level of service to citizens in need. "The highly curated and updated community resource database will no longer be accessible," she said.

“We’ll continue to meet with Sarasota County officials and advocate for 211,” Muroff said in a news release. “It is one of the single most important tools we have when it comes to delivering needed social services to the community.”

None of the five Sarasota County commissioners have responded to requests for comment.

211 Suncoast is a collaborative effort involving United Way Suncoast, Glasser Schoenbaum and Heart of Florida United Way. It traces its roots back to the formation of a referral service in 1995.

Jim DeLa is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Reach him at jdela@cncfl.org