Chapter 2: The Hotline

Katie heard a lot about 211 doing this reporting. Not just from Tulicia Lee who called a bunch of times, but from everyone—from homeless people and service providers and advocates. In her mind, it was the 911 of homelessness. Only, more often than not, it seemed like when people called 211, the metaphorical ambulance never came. That was true for Tulicia, and it was true for lots of other people she met.

If everyone starts at 211, why is it a dead-end for so many people? What is happening at 211? At the beginning of March, right before everything shut down for the pandemic, Katie spent a day in the 211 call center.

“All the operators told me the best calls – the best days – are when you feel like you actually have something to offer.”

The way homelessness has exploded in California over the last decade, you’d think there was no system in place to address it. But there is one – it just wasn’t designed to help everyone. According to Need is a documentary podcast in 5 chapters from 99% Invisible that asks: what are we doing to get people into housing?

Credits

According to Need was produced by Katie Mingle, with associate producer Abby Madan and managing editor Whitney Henry-Lester. Further invaluable editing from Roman Mars, Lisa Pollak, Emmett FitzGerald, Delaney Hall, Christopher Johnson and Joe Rosenberg. Sound engineering by Brendan Baker. Fact checking by Amy Gaines. Beautiful music by the beautiful Sean Real. Branding and Design by MUCHMORE.io. Kurt Kohlstedt was our digital director. Additional support from Sofia Klatzker, Vivian Le and Chris Berube. Special thanks to everyone who was interviewed for this series as well as Marisol Medina Cadena, Alison DeJung, Elsa Gonzalez, and all the 211 operators who spoke with us.

According to Need is a project of 99% Invisible which is distributed by PRX.

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