FROM THE BLOG

January 23, 2014 in Collective Impact, Event, Homelessness, Poverty by United Front

Statewide Partnership for Good

by Ellie Krug, Call for Justice

National United Way 2-1-1

“In America the recession is over, and U.S. corporations and Wall Street are doing better than ever. Yet 46% of this country is living in poverty, or near poverty, and today we have the highest number of poor since we began keeping records…” –Harry & Joe Gantz (producers of AMERICAN WINTER)

In a society with declining safety nets and cuts to social services programs, many people—honest, hard-working people—are falling through the cracks. Whether it’s the sudden loss of a job, the absence of a partner, or the unanticipated medical emergency, there are those who find themselves unexpectedly in need of help, with no direction to go.

So what do they do? They call United Way 2-1-1.

On February 11, we celebrate “National 2-1-1 Day” to recognize the importance of our own Greater Twin Cities United Way 2-1-1 system, which fields calls statewide, and provides upwards of 400,000 referrals annually. This year, we are celebrating the exceptional work of 2-1-1 and its service to our legal community. Thus, we (Call for Justice) decided to help host a showing of AMERICAN WINTER.

Taking place in the “Great Recession,” AMERICAN WINTER is an award-winning documentary that examines the current social support systems in place for America’s most vulnerable populations, including those becoming increasingly susceptible to hard times—the middle class. The film follows eight families through a winter in Portland, Oregon, documenting not only their struggles with homelessness, joblessness, catastrophic medical emergencies and other crushing challenges, but also highlighting the crucial role of 2-1-1 in helping to connect people in need with community resources.

How did the film’s producers incorporate 2-1-1, you ask?

“We found the families for this documentary by listening to calls coming into 2-1-1 Information in Portland, a crisis line for people needing help. We listened to hundreds of calls to 2-1-1 everyday—and talk about a sobering experience,” state Joe and Harry Gantz in the film synopsis on AmericanWinterFilm.com.

But where does Call for Justice fit into the 2-1-1 network?

Historically, the local United Way 2-1-1 makes approximately 35,000 legal needs referrals a year, making it the largest legal referral agent in the Twin Cities. However, before Call for Justice, many of 2-1-1’s legal referrals were limited due to a lack of exposure about the breadth of Twin Cities’ legal resources. The goal of Call for Justice, which started operations in December 2011, was to help 2-1-1 spread out the referrals so that callers were connected to the right provider for the right legal need (e.g. a caller with immigration needs gets referred to a nonprofit immigrant law provider).

Thus, the Call for Justice staff (consisting of just two people!) began training twenty-five United Way 2-1-1 Information & Referral Specialists and their managers on how to make better targeted referrals to Twin Cities nonprofit legal providers. The training materials were completely organic; lacking a template, we began a training manual with “Session 1: Basics of the Civil Legal System.” So far, Call for Justice has provided 17 training sessions on topics ranging from Landlord-Tenant law, Youth Law, the Volunteer Lawyers Network, Community Mediation Services, Bankruptcy Law, and more.

Since 2011, the Call for Justice—United Way 2-1-1 collaboration has resulted in a significant dispersion of legal referrals. For example, referrals to LawHelpMN.org, a web site associated with Legal Aid, increased by more than 800% as a result of our training. Moreover, the collaboration has garnered some national attention, with two features in Richard Zorza’s Access to Justice Blog within the past six months. Taking notice of the unique collaboration, Zorza stated the following:

“A few months ago, I was particularly excited to hear about a Minnesota initiative that leveraged the power of 211 systems with the legal help resources developed by that state’s access community to achieve a huge increase in usage of those access resources…Every state should be doing things like this.”

One thing I haven’t spoken of is the unique ability of 2-1-1 to combine legal referrals with referrals to social service agencies. This is a huge leveraging of resources, and it serves legal needs callers so very well. There is no other legal referral agent in the Twin Cities that combines these two kinds of referrals.

Call for Justice deeply values its collaboration with United Way 2-1-1, and we’re very excited for what the future holds. We look forward to joining the Greater Twin Cities United Way, United Way 2-1-1, and our community members and supporters for a powerful evening celebrating the role of 2-1-1.

We hope you join us at the event!

Ellen (Ellie) Krug, Contributor
Executive Director
Call for Justice, LLC