211 helpline implements changes during heat wave

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — After nearly 100 Oregonians died during the historic heat wave of 2021, leaders were pressed to make changes to ensure more people have access to critical resources like 211info.

211 is the private nonprofit that connects people with important community resources.

With this week’s heat wave bringing triple-digit temperatures to Portland, KGW checked in with 211 to see how things have changed over the past year.

“We developed a punch list of things… improvements, course corrections, if you will, that we wanted to do going forward,” said Dan Herman, the CEO of 211.

During one day of last summer’s record-breaking heat wave, 211 was not open and they missed about 750 calls.

After the heat wave, 211 shifted to operate 24/7, expand services statewide and increased their number of staff members to 150.

OTHER STORIES: How is Portland handling in-person check-ins during this heat emergency?

Herman said the team has handled about 650 calls so far this week, mostly from Multnomah County residents. They have received about 200 calls each day, with the majority being people asking for information about cooling centers and air conditioners. The average wait time for callers is between 13 and 30 seconds.

“Last year, I will mark down to a big year of learning. Not just for 211info… but also our partners. The collective system that is support for a crisis or a time like this,” said Herman.

Four overnight cooling shelters in Multnomah County will remain open through at least Saturday morning. Officials reported about 170 people stayed in these shelters overnight on Wednesday. That amounts to about 60% of total capacity.

Jake Dornblaser helps run the downtown cooling shelter inside the Portland Building on Southwest 5th Avenue.

“Calling 211 is usually the best option because we report how many spots are available at each shelter. So they are going to be able to tell you which space has spots available for folks,” said Dornblaser.

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