GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When Hurricane Ian hit Florida in late September, the 211 network there had to shelter in place or evacuate. They typically work around the clock, helping people in Florida get connected to services like food, shelter, and housing. However, this time, they needed to keep safe.
So, Michigan’s 211 network stepped in to help.
“We have a standing mutual aid relationship to assist The Heart of Florida United Way. So, their United Way 211 covers 14 counties across the golf and Orlando area, which we all know is hardest hit right now by Hurricane Ian,” said Emily Ruckel during a Zoom interview on Friday. “So, we as a network have taken over 1700 calls and that number was as of October 4.”
Ruckel, who’s the vice president of technology, said that number has grown since then. They’ve taken a variety of calls requesting access to storm supplies, evacuation routes, road closure information, disaster services, Red Cross services, and the basic needs of food and shelter.
They’ve also gotten calls from people seeking mental health help.
“Our staff are trained in basic crisis intervention skills,” Ruckel said. “We are not a crisis hotline. So, what we would do if someone was in a true mental health emergency, we would follow our crisis protocol and get them to 9-8-8, which is the National Suicide Hotline or local community health resources. But, we can help deescalate and we can talk through the situation.”
Ruckel said the human connection part is one the best things about the 211 network.
The Gryphon team in Kalamazoo and the Toledo 211 network have collectively worked over 325 hours assisting people in Florida.
“Especially in this time of disaster people are vulnerable,” Ruckel said. “And, they are needing that empathy and compassion on the other end of the line. We’re going to talk to them. We’re going to listen to what’s going on.”
Michigan 211 was able to help out the Florida network because of the mutual aid agreement that they have where they help one another in times of trouble. A few years ago, Florida helped in Michigan during the Flint Water Crisis and when the Midland area flooded.
Now, Michigan is returning the favor.
“When you see the power of the network in this type of situation it’s just truly incredible,” Ruckel said. “To watch all seven centers in Michigan come together and really quickly mobilize to assist another community that’s thousands of miles away during a time of such need is just remarkable.”