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Vermont 211 restores 24/7 service thanks to extra funds in this year's state budget

A photo of a headset leaning against a landline telephone on a wooden desk top. The light in the photo is slightly golden and warm in the left half of the image.
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After a year of running from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Vermont 211 is back to taking calls 24/7.

Starting this week, Vermont 211 is back to 24/7 service.

The state-funded service, run through the nonprofit United Ways of Vermont, refers callers to health and housing resources.

For the past year, Vermont 211 had limited hours due to budget cuts — the service was available between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.

And according to Elizabeth Gilman, the executive director of Vermont 211, they couldn't always reconnect with people who reached out late at night.

"If they called at one in the morning, and we're calling them back at eight, they may not be available anymore, or they might not still have access to that phone," Gilman says. "I think there are impacts that we don't even know, and can't even necessarily measure what was happening for those folks that call during the hours that we weren't available."

A more obvious result of Vermont 211's reduced capacity last year came just days after the change went into effect.

"Hours were cut on July 1, and then on July 9, we had the terrible flooding," Gilman says.

Vermonters were directed to report damage and losses to Vermont 211.

And Barre City Rep. Jonathan Williams, a Democrat, says he knew people who couldn’t get through to 211 because they either weren’t open, or were overwhelmed by calls.

"If it's not there during the 1% of the time when there is an emergency, even if it's operating the other 99% of the time, in my opinion, what good is it?" Williams says.

Williams says he was among the lawmakers to mention fully funding Vermont 211 during the appropriations process during this year's legislative session. And in the end, the Legislature allocated an additional $332,000 for Vermont 211.

"I'm very happy to see that it is restored to... 24/7 service, because that's simply what is needed," he says. "I believe that the flooding from last year was a climate-change-induced event... so you know, this challenge isn't gonna go away. If anything, it's gonna get harder. So we need to be prepared."

Gilman says the service is in the process of hiring more staff and beefing up its phone lines. It is now active 24/7 in English as well as more languages by way of telephonic translation.

As for disaster reporting, that is still available through Vermont 211. Gilman says they're discussing with state officials how to improve that process.

"Last year was the first year that we were working with [Vermont] Emergency Management on how to best get them that data as quickly as possible, and, you know, I think we're we're always evolving," she says.

(One recent change is that the personal information Vermonters share with Vermont 211 during natural disasters is exempt from public records requests.)

In the meantime, Gilman says Vermont's housing crisis is likely going to be the biggest driver in calls. Especially as seasons — and emergency shelter eligibility rules — change.

"We are here to direct folks to services, if and when they're available," she says. "You know, are they going to be able to access those? I think that's a much bigger question and issue. But we are here to help."

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

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Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.