Improving the 211 Phone Service System for Homeless Individuals

The 211 telephone service system provides a way for individuals facing problems to discover programs that may be able to help them. Many people experiencing homelessness dial 211 for information on available support programs, shelters, and related services. However, this system is extremely overloaded and unable to meet the growing demand.
People Impacted
$ 199B
Potential Funding
I have this challenge
the problem
Nature and Context

In the United States, dialing '211' connects individuals and families to critical resources and information on health and human services in their region. Often, people battling homelessness are instructed to dial 211 for information on available programs, shelters, and other support services.

The demand and call volume is so high in some regions that many people in crisis are unable to have their needs met due to overwhelmed call centers.

Symptoms and Causes

Nationwide, the homeless population is approaching five straight years of growth. Human service providers are unable to match the increased demand of service provision with their disposable resources.


  • Underinvestment in call center infrastructure

  • A growing underserved population


  • An overwhelmed call center system

  • Unmet needs of individuals and families in crisis

  • A growing underserved population

the impact
Negative Effects
  • Overwhelmed call centers

  • Reduced efficacy of human service provision

  • Enablement of growth in the population of underserved individuals and families

Economic Impact

2020 estimated expenditure on homelessness in Western Washington regions:

  • $103.7 million in the City of Seattle

  • $195 million in King County

  • $1.06 billion in the Puget Sound region

Success Metrics
  • Increase in individuals served through 211 resource connection

  • Eventual decrease in call volume

who benefits from solving this problem
Organization Types
  • Low-income social and health services organizations

  • Civil legal aid groups

  • Shelters

  • City, County, and State Governments

  • Local, county, and state governments

  • Underserved communities

  • Low-income community and emergency service providers

financial insights
Current Funding

X4Impact Money-flow data aggregation from over 200K IRS 990 forms and 8K Private Investments reported to the SEC (Jan-May 2020) report over $215B devoted to UN SDG related to No Poverty

Potential Solution Funding
  • Government Grants devoted to assisting Homeless Individuals.

  • Charitable Contributions from large Foundations

  • Corporate Social Responsibility Programs from Telcos and Tech companies

  • NGOs devoted to addressing homelessness which report, together, hundreds of billions of USD as annual income every year as per IRS 990 reports

Ideas Description

As Public Phones are almost non-existent, people rely on mobile phones or shared phones at shelters and NPOs

Some ideas are:

  1. create a text-message based service. A growing number of people rely on their phones for connecting to the internet or subscribe to text based updates (PEW). Reaching them on their mobile devices is key.

  2. free-access section of the internet: work with carriers and local governments and offer a 211 web based solution that people can access even without a data plan. Can we create a free-section of the internet to offer access to basic resources?

  3. Partner with this Social Enterprise: work wiht firms within the community to further social impact.

  • Contributions from Real Estate firms in densely populated areas

  • Corporate Social Responsibility / Social Marketing Sponsorships

Tech Solutions

Additionally there are several solutions featured on X4Impact that are already making a difference:

  • StreetChange is a mobile application that leverages the power of small donations to help people that need it the most: homeless neighbors with short-term needs. Through iOS and Android apps you can contribute to necessities like socks, shoes, and raincoats requested by StreetChange clients who meet with a caseworker to discuss healthcare and housing options when picking up their goods.

  • Shelter App, Inc. is an All-volunteer Non-Profit Organization whose mission is to help homeless and low-income families connect to services using the web and mobile app where they can find Food, Shelter, Health, Work and other resources.

  • People experiencing homelessness rely on the internet to apply for housing and benefits, schedule appointments with doctors and case managers, search for jobs, and stay in touch with family and friends. It is a lifeline for getting back on your feet. ShelterConnect works with internet service providers to offer free wifi in shelters and transitional housing facilities.

  • Outreach and case teams use Samaritan to help clients overcome barriers to a permanent, supportive home, unlocking capacity to reach the next person in need sooner. The support platform—specifically designed for people without a home—is used to provide hope to vulnerable populations by connecting them to the financial and social support needed to move forward.