The 211 helpline operated 24-7 by the United Way of Greater Houston connects residents with a range of social services, from food assistance to help with rent and utility bills. During and after Harvey, calls to 211 shot up with people across the Houston area looking for help.
Between August 28 and October 10, 136,000 residents called 211, according to the United Way of Greater Houston. A total of 51,596 unique callers requested service referrals due to the effects of the storm.
The Kinder Institute’s Houston Community Data Connections created an interactive map utilizing the 211 call data to capture the extent and type of need in the weeks following the storm. The team recently published an interactive map on the same topic using valid individual assistance applications submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Call volume for Harvey-related requests to the 211 helpline went from 21,233 in the first week down to 1,801 a little over a month and a half after the storm.
Overall, most calls have requested referrals or information for Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) and other food assistance, temporary financial aid, shelter and disaster unemployment assistance. Needs changed week-to-week, reflecting the process of recovery.
- Week 1 and Week 2: callers asked for D-SNAP, shelter and DRC information, and FEMA disaster assistance registration information.
- Week 3 through Week 5: callers requested temporary financial aid, D-SNAP, FEMA registration and DRC information, unemployment assistance and post-disaster cleanup supplies.
- Week 6 through Week 7: callers continued to seek D-SNAP information, but temporary housing and utility assistance rose as well.
Callers looking for information about food stamps and case management continued to drive the bulk of the calls well into the seventh week following Harvey, with a spike in interest in the sixth week, around the time when the initial D-SNAP program ended in Harris County on October 6. Advocacy groups pushed the state to extend the program due to ongoing needs, which the state did, extending the application period for three additional days, ending on October 20.
Because zip codes vary by both geographic size and population, comparing them should take into account those variations to identify the areas with the greatest relative need. In this case, the zip code that includes the Addicks Reservoir and nearby neighborhoods, 77084 had one of the highest call volumes per zip code of any with a total of 1,202 calls. But compare that to 77028, which covers parts of both Trinity Gardens and East Houston on the northeast side, which had the highest amount of calls of any zip code at 1,207.
The need seems roughly on par.
Map: 211 Calls After Harvey
The first zip code, however, is home to some 102,437 people, according to estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The second zip code is home to just 14,558 people, according to those same estimates.
A more detailed comparison of need would include not just that one zip code, but several neighboring ones as well. Combining the 77093, 77026 and 77016 zip codes with the 77028 zip code yields a total population of 106,365, according to the estimates. All together, those zip codes, which cover Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens, had a total of 4,249 calls, well over the total calls for the roughly comparable geography in terms of population around the reservoir.
A similar pattern plays out in other areas as well. For example, the 77033 zip code in southeast Houston had a total of 955 calls but has just 27,478 people. Adding the nearby zip codes of 77051, 77021 and 77004, including Sunnyside, Third Ward and the OST/South Union area yields a total population of 104,567, slightly higher than that of the zip code by the reservoir. Its call total, however, is much higher at 3,152.
In both cases, most of the neighborhoods in the combined zip codes are predominantly African American with median household incomes well below the median household income in the 77084 zip code.
Still the data offers a portrait of the types of referrals being requested and the rough geography of need in the wake of Harvey to layer on top of existing datasets analyzed by the Houston Community Data Connections team.