Greg Cox in the new 2-1-1 call center in Kearny Mesa. Photo by Chris Jennewein
Greg Cox in the new 2-1-1 call center in Kearny Mesa. Photo by Chris Jennewein

County Supervisor Greg Cox showed off San Diego’s increasingly successful 2-1-1 hotline to California political leaders on Thursday, suggesting it can be a national model for connecting people with services they need.

Cox led 40 public, community and business leaders from the California Association of Counties on a tour of 2-1-1 San Diego‘s new headquarters in Kearny Mesa.

“There’re a lot of 2-1-1 operations across the country, but none of them are doing the breadth of programs that San Diego is,” said Cox, who was instrumental in launching the call center.

A staff of 135 began taking calls in the new location Thursday morning, and officials expect the team to handle nearly half a million this year.

The $10 million nonprofit organization was started with county funding in 2005 but now receives fees from service providers such as First 5 San Diego and San Diego Gas & Electric to cover most of its costs.

Live operators connect callers with health and wellness services, food assistance, veterans support, housing and utility resources, disaster relief and can enroll them in benefit programs like Covered California. Having live operators is considered key to making the services accessible to the public. “People want to talk to somebody at the end of the day,” noted John Ohanian, 2-1-1 San Diego’s president and chief executive officer.

The service is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day in multiple languages. The San Diego call center also serves Imperial County.

There are 240 2-1-1 services in operation across the United States, including 19 in California.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.