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How 211 is Helping More Minnesotans Stay Safely Housed

A 211 Resource Helpline Community Resource Specialist is smiling while looking off in the distance

James Collins


Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 211 resource helpline provides information and referrals to 40,000+ statewide resources and services to ensure people have their basic needs met. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in multiple languages, 211 refers people — at no cost — to critical services like rental assistance, food programs, child care, employment resources and more.

To date this year, 211 has fielded nearly 127,000 calls for these core services plus an additional 155,000 calls for rent assistance through the state’s RentHelpMN program. Rental assistance is vital to preventing evictions and keeping more people safely housed during – and after – the pandemic.

Why Eviction Prevention?

Regarding housing, we’re often asked “Why is 211 focused on rent assistance? I thought you provided information about shelters?” or “Why does 211 care so much about rent assistance and evictions?” The answer is because we know that preventing evictions is an effective way to prevent homelessness.
United Way’s approach to advancing housing stability is aligned with that of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness: Homelessness should be prevented whenever possible or, if it can’t be prevented, is a rare, brief and one-time experience.

This focus on homelessness prevention is important because, like so much of the work that United Way does, it’s a “both/and” approach — serve those currently experiencing homelessness AND work to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place.

This dual strategy of immediate shelter and homelessness prevention drives how we think about leveraging our 211 infrastructure in strategic partnerships with the state and different counties, including our deep involvement in Minnesota Housing Finance Agency’s COVID-19 Housing Assistance and RentHelpMN programs. It’s really through that both/and approach that we can create a lasting impact.

Eviction Moratorium Update

October 12, 2021 marked a milestone in the eviction moratorium offramp. Minnesotans can now be evicted for nonpayment of rent unless they have a pending application in a rent assistance program. What that has meant for the community has been an immediate increase in eviction filings, as evidenced by calls to 211, county data and media reports.

Although this uptick was expected, it is concerning. To maximize a household’s access to eviction prevention resources, our 211 team has identified several different state, county and important non-profit-based resources such as Home LINE and the Volunteer Lawyers Network, which we provide to callers who reach out and share that they are facing a court date. Increasing evictions will likely be a real challenge in our communities over the next several months.

Recognition of RentHelpMN Efforts

This past spring, 211 partnered with the state’s RentHelpMN Emergency Rent Assistance Program to provide phone-based applicant information and support services. Since this program launched on April 20, 2021, our 211 RentHelpMN team has handled over 155,000 calls and facilitated access to over $170 million in rent assistance payments.

In recognition of these achievements, Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan and Minnesota Housing Finance Commissioner Jennifer Ho met with the 211 team and thanked us for the above and beyond efforts shown to support Minnesotans accessing emergency rent assistance, sharing messages of encouragement, gratitude and support. Their visit was a special moment in what has been a truly impactful partnership.

If you’re curious to learn more about the impact of the RentHelp program, Minnesota Housing regularly updates a dashboard that provides useful program data, including applicant demographics and program payments information.

Thank you to our generous donors and state and county partners for ensuring 211 is there for our neighbors 24/7.

About the Author

James Collins is Senior Director of the 211 Resource Helpline and Suicide Prevention Lifeline Services. He leads Minnesota’s leading social services statewide information and referral and mental program; provided critical social services referrals to 450,000+ people annually. James has a Masters degree in Business Administration from the Carlson School of Management and a Masters in Public and Nonprofit Leadership and Management from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

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