Impact 211 hotline to help the homeless find shelter this winter

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Milwaukee County's 211 hotline has recently been used to help Milwaukee County residents get information about the Affordable Care Act. Now, the hotline is helping to get the homeless out of the cold.

When the phones at the United Way's Impact 211 ring, there's always someone on the other end, connecting Milwaukee County residents in need of social services with organizations that can help out.

Since the roll out of the Affordable Care Act on October 1st, 211 has taken on another mission -- helping the homeless get off the street.

"Becoming the central access point for emergency shelters in Milwaukee," Audra O'Connell said.

O'Connell is the manager of 211's Coordinated Entry Program.

211's goal is to work with area shelters and prioritize shelter space based on need. Gone is the first come, first serve mentality. When someone calls 211 looking for shelter, operators ask questions about income, mental and other health issues and where they stayed the night before.

"From there, we assess their vulnerability.  Truly, that`s us looking at what is the likelihood that that they would die if left on the streets," O'Connell said.

Right now, 211 is only assisting families, but the organization is planning a broader roll out throughout the next 10 months.

"In January, we will implement single women and in February veterans," O'Connell said.

It's all to fill a growing need in Milwaukee County -- one that always increases as temperatures drop.

"The biggest issue in Milwaukee is there aren`t enough shelter beds to fill that need," O'Connell said.

The hotline has been in use in Milwaukee County since 2002. Impact 211 is funded by the County, United Way and donations.