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History of 2-1-1 WNY

In 1985 a household study conducted by the SUNY at Buffalo School of Management and coordinated by the Junior League of Buffalo discovered a serious and continuing unmet need in Erie County for information and referral. The study found that despite the fact that services do exist, 80% of those surveyed were not aware of them and did not know where to turn for help. The simple fact is that health and human service providers do not have the money to adequately publicize their services.

As a result of the need identified in the survey, 14 major health and human service providers were brought together by the Junior League, and charged with the task of developing a response. It was decided a well publicized, computer driven system with an up-to-date database was the best method of linking people in need to providers that served the community. Thus, Central Referral Service, Inc. was created in 1985 and became operational in 1986.

The resulting database has grown significantly over the last 25 years. What started out as a comprehensive database of services offered by the public and non-profit organizations in Erie County now includes Niagara, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Wyoming Counties. In addition, CRS was commissioned to develop and maintain a specialized database containing programs specifically designed to serve the needs of people with developmental disabilities - DD Info Link.

In 2003, the 2-1-1 NY Collaborative granted the 2-1-1 WNY designation to CRS. This was the first 2-1-1 call center designation in New York State. Central Referral Service, Inc. received funding from Oishei Foundation and New York State and launched this service in December 2007, reopening as CRS/2-1-1 WNY. In recognition of the essential nature of this service, CRS/2-1-1WNY moved from its offices in City Hall to the Erie County Public Safety Campus for its reopening. 2-1-1WNY is a health and human service hotline providing over the phone services connecting people in need with appropriate resources. 2-1-1 WNY has over 3,000 organizations offering over 15,000 services listed collectively in the databases.

As a result of funding cuts; in 2010 CRS became a subsidiary of the Olmsted Center for Sight. In June of 2011, the merger was finalized and 2-1-1 WNY became a program administered by the Olmsted Center for Sight. This transition ended CRS as a legal entity but has brought exciting new opportunities and partnerships.

2-1-1 WNY utilizes professionally trained paid and non-paid staff to assist telephone callers in identifying their needs. Using the IRis system, staff identify those providers in the database who most appropriately fit the caller's needs. 2-1-1 WNY makes 30,000-40,000 free and confidential referrals annually.

2-1-1 WNY is an information source for specialized seasonal services such as the WNY Holiday Partnership Program, News Neediest Program, and Free Tax Preparation Sites. During man-made and natural disasters, 2-1-1 WNY serves as an information hub connecting individuals with the agencies that can provide for their immediate basic needs; allowing 9-1-1 to concentrate on life-threatening and emergency issues.

2-1-1 WNY, a program of the Olmsted Center for Sight, receives funding from the United Ways of Buffalo and Erie County, Cattaraugus County, Northern Chautauqua County, and Southern Chautauqua County; the Erie and Niagara Reentry Task Forces; Western N.Y. Development Disability Service Office and various local foundations.
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