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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Social Service Hotline Inundated With Calls

PATH headquarters
Cristan Jaramillo
PATH programs to offer information on resources available for low income, seniors, and other vulnerable people is based in downtown Bloomington.

Those living close to the edge have a lot of fear and uncertainty amid the pandemic. Government responses to the coronavirus pandemic have prompted a flood of calls to 211 centers across the state.

That free service is a clearinghouse of information and database access to help people find solutions to move beyond their precarious situations, especially low-income people and seniors.

Providing Access To Help (PATH) based in Bloomington offers 211 service for 44 counties in Illinois.

“We have lots of information coming in here and it is really difficult to manage the flow,” said PATH Executive Director Karen Zangerle.

It's a very limited number of people who will be helped or saved from eviction. They have a lot of requirements.

Zangerle said the rapidity of events has raised many, as yet, unanswered questions about delivery of services.

“It has been a ridiculous couple of weeks, but the volume is now dropping. I don’t know if the volume is going to start up again, (once the shelter in place takes full effect). On Wednesday we had over 600 calls and we average about 150,” said Zangerle.

The shutdown order will not prevent volunteers from manning the hotline. PATH has a common phone room. But Zangerle said there is an alternative now.

A map of 211 service areas in Illinois
Credit State of Illinois / 211 Service
211 Service
PATH (Providing Access To Help) offers 211 information service in 44 Illinois Counties.

“We do have remote workers. We have remote sites. We started this trial program last December and I’m so glad we did,” she said.

PATH has about 15 volunteers who had to go home because university dorms closed in Bloomington-Normal. They can work remotely and get all the same resources as if they were in the phone room, said Zangerle.

“Eighteen months ago, we turned to a cloud communication phone system and that is making a lot of things possible that we would not have been able to do without that,” said Zangerle.

Primary concerns voiced by callers to the hotline center on making rent and utility payments.

“I took a call that almost had me in tears. It was a single mom, two kids. And she made pretty good money as a waitress at a Bloomington-Normal restaurant. The restaurant closed. And so, ‘Where do I get rent assistance from because I can’t pay my April rent?’” said Zangerle.

“And there are so many things being said at the federal level that people are hearing and seeing and believing. And in reality, there has actually been very little actually done,” said Zangerle. “One of the things the president indicated was that there would not be any evictions. We got word Friday of what that means and it’s a very limited number of people who will be helped or saved from eviction. They have a lot of requirements.”

She said most of the people PATH sees who have subsidized housing are in apartments.

“And those people don’t have any resources,” she said.

She said the other thing people are calling about is “where’s my money?” The president has talked about direct payments, but details have yet to be finalized at the federal level.

“People expect that to be here and want to know where to pick it up. … We have to say to them we really don’t know how this is going to be,” said Zangerle.

Some questions raised in recent days involve PATH itself. The agency provides some direct services to seniors, services mandated by the state.

“We have stopped going out for home visits. We’re put in a bad place because the state of Illinois does not want us doing face to face visits, but the state of Illinois will only pay for face-to-face visits, they won’t pay for a telephone assessment,” said Zangerle. “It means loss of funding for us. My staffing for adult protective services is going to take a hit,” said Zangerle. "I may have to, depending on what happens, lay off workers if we are not being paid for doing what we are supposed to do."

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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