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United Way to launch 211 resources hotline

A new telephone hotline linking local callers with the human service programs they need will be launched early next year, organizers said Thursday.

Beginning sometime in 2007, dialing 211 in Western New York will connect callers in need to dispatchers who can pinpoint which human service agency can help them.

Any glitches with the service will be worked out in a "soft launch" during the first quarter of 2007, according to representatives of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, the lead organization for the 211 hotline.

The service -- planned for years -- is expected to divert calls inappropriately made to an overburdened 911 emergency hotline.

Central Referral Service will be the local operator of 211, which will be an around-the-clock service.

"People in our community will know that when they have a question on a health and human service need, they can simply call 211," said Arlene Kaukus, president of the local United Way. "Answers to questions from domestic abuse issues to natural disaster information to clothing donations and food drives will all be available by simply dialing 211."

The 211 call center, which will be located in the Erie County Public Safety Building on Elm Street, is expected to cost $1 million to $1.2 million per year to operate.

The United Way is kicking in $1 million over three years, and the John R. Oishei Foundation is contributing $750,000 over two years. The local delegation of state legislators committed $845,288 in the 2006-07 state budget for 211 hotline services in Western New York .

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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