By Leroy Ball President & CEO, Koppers; Chair, 2017 United Way Campaign
Imagine not knowing where your next meal was coming from, how you were going to pay this month’s rent, or whether or not you’d be able to keep your heat on during a cold winter month.
This is the reality for many of our neighbors and community members.
People right here in Southwestern PA are struggling financially, and need is growing every year. Families are facing hunger, homelessness and having difficulties meeting basic needs.
United Way’s PA 2-1-1 Southwest, a 24-hour service line that connects people in need of assistance to resources throughout the community, has picked up more and more phone calls and contacts from individuals facing a crisis. From 2016 to 2017, the total number of contacts to 2-1-1 saw an 11% increase with more than 81,000 contacts last year.
Of these calls, United Way was able to identify some of the biggest needs – the struggles people are calling for help with the most – so they can better serve the community.
1. Utility assistance: Of the biggest needs in our community, individuals reached out most frequently for utility assistance, such as electric and gas service payments. More than 15,500 calls came in to 2-1-1 from people who were worried about their electricity or gas being shut off.
With our region’s harsh winters, it’s impossible to live without heat, and a home cannot function without electricity. These are two critical utilities that help keep our community members safe, warm, and healthy in their homes.
2. Rent payment assistance: With housing costs consistently rising, it is difficult for some community members to make their payment each month – especially when a crisis occurs, such as an unexpected medical bill or car problem. Nearly 6,000 contacts were made to 2-1-1 looking for guidance or assistance with paying rent.
When other bills add up, such as groceries, childcare costs, transportation, etc., rent can be difficult to meet. 2-1-1 is available to help connect individuals to community resources to help them keep a roof over their head.
3. Food pantries: In 2017, 2-1-1 was contacted more than 5,000 times for help finding nutritional meals or local food pantries, this means approximately 5,000 people in our community were faced with hunger last year, and that does not even include those individuals’ children or other family members.
Based on this list, United Way noticed a trend. Our community members – seniors, veterans, single women, and more – are facing hunger and homelessness. So many are on the edge of hitting rock bottom, and it is our job as corporate leaders and partners of United Way to make sure they don’t get to that point.
By working together with businesses, local church congregations, agencies, landlords, and other active community leaders, we can work to find individuals who might be faced with a crisis and spread the word about 2-1-1.