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
$ 211B
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

Success Metrics
  • Increase in individuals served through 211 resource connection

  • Eventual decrease in call volume

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

who benefits from solving this problem
  • Local, county, and state governments

  • Underserved communities

  • Low-income community and emergency service providers

Organization Types
  • Low-income social and health services organizations

  • Civil legal aid groups

  • Shelters

  • City, County, and State Governments

financial insights
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

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

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. More people have access to text-message than to full internet data plans (this data needs a citation).

  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: Shelter Connect is offering Free WiFi at Shelters, perhaps we can partner with them to explore options

Tech Solutions

  • 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.

  • Contributions from Real Estate firms in densely populated areas

  • Corporate Social Responsibility / Social Marketing Sponsorships