Number of Calls to Northeast Ohio Emergency Hotline Up

Rising unemployment and foreclosure rates have led to a surge in calls to Northeast Ohio's line, the reports.

Last month some 18,000 callers sought information about food, shelter, utility bill payments, and other services from the free social services hotline, which serves Cuyahoga, Medina, and Geauga counties and is funded by the . That made August the busiest month of the year for the hotline and the second busiest in its five-year history. Since 2004, the average number of monthly calls has increased from about 7,800 to nearly 16,500. What's more, calls from suburban communities have risen sharply, with the number of suburbanites requesting emergency food up some 190 percent since 2006.

According to 2-1-1 director Steve Wertheim, while the jump in calls is due in part to increased public awareness of the service, it is also a symptom of a stressed economic region. Indeed, at the , which receives the largest share of 2-1-1 referrals, 42,000 first-time clients have sought food, shelter, and other services this year. At the same time, donations to the agency have fallen, resulting in the cancellation of its infant daycare program.

Although stimulus money for emergency food and shelter has provided a temporary boost for some agencies, the support may not be enough. "It's one-time bucks," said Wertheim, "and everybody's wondering what's going to happen after that."

Margaret Bernstein. "." Cleveland Plain Dealer 09/21/2009.