BROWARD (CBSMiami) – The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on the economy and it’s leading to a lot of fear and frustration for people struggling to make ends meet.
But there are agencies in South Florida providing help, including 211 Broward, which is on the frontlines of the effort. Since the crisis erupted in the U.S. and in South Florida, 211 Broward has been inundated with calls for help. Chief Operating Officer Francisco Isaza says their call volume is up 46 percent over February.
“We’ve seen our call volume explode,” he said. “People are losing their jobs and scared about how they’re going to pay their rent and mortgage and their bills.”
The increase in calls means Helpline Counselors like Juan Gonzalez are working longer hours to meet the needs of the community.
“It can be overwhelming because we know the community is suffering a lot,” Gonzalez said.
Suffering because businesses are shut down and people are out of work, struggling to make ends meet and looking for any assistance they can get.
“There are a lot of families who have children who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said 211 Broward is receiving a lot of calls from concerned seniors, worried they may get sick.
“There’s a lot of senior citizens out there that don’t have any family or friends, don’t have anybody they can lean on,” he explained. “That’s why we’re here to present a warm voice they can count on.”
Fortunately, Isaza said there is a lot of help available from agencies in the community. He reminds people that food services are available and that’s is critical for people to apply for unemployment benefits as soon as possible, even though it may take a while for the benefits to come through. Isaza also said 211 Broward has been critical for dispelling rumors and misinformation.
“We’re definitely the front line, even the front line for rumor control,” he said. “When they first started talking about the stimulus dollars we saw an influx of people asking, ‘When am I gonna get it? How much am I gonna get?’”
For years 211 Broward has provided an important community function, even just listening to those who are scared and lonely or people with nowhere else to turn. Isaza worries about the impact on the community’s mental health as the coronavirus crisis continues.
“What happens when you need to start paying those bills again?” he said. “Where are you gonna get the funds to do that? I think everybody’s stressors are going to intensify as this prolongs.”
He also said the agency is taking special care to protect the well-being of their 32 Helpline Counselors. They’ve encouraged them to practice self-care and they held a virtual party for them. Isaza also expects to lengthen their lunch break to give them more time to de-stress from the escalating volume of calls.
“We really have to be mindful of people’s mental health when they’re handling these calls and wellness because all of us are going through this together,” he said.
211 Broward is open 24/7 for calls. The calls can be confidential and they’re answered by a trained counselor. 211 Broward is a non-profit and they are always looking for donations. You can find their website: 211-broward.org.