Every day, more Americans find themselves descending into a perilous economic situation. Lost as to what to do next and desperate to meet their basic needs, many call a number looking for help: that number is 211. In a nondescript building in downtown Portland, men and women answer these calls twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The sole mission of the 211 call center is to connect people with the social service agencies that may be able to provide the urgent housing, health, or financial assistance that they need.
We are producing American Winter to reveal the dramatic struggle of these individuals and families in their time of need, beginning with their phone call to 211. From there, with the caller’s permission, a camera crew rushes to the caller’s location and captures the events unfolding as the subjects try to find a solution to their crisis. We intend to follow several families as they struggle to get their life back on course, weaving these powerful stories into a narrative that will give viewers insight into the impact of budget cuts to social services on a growing number of families who desperately need help.
Not surprisingly, it is no longer just the chronically poor who are affected by our nation’s economic downturn-- the impact has spread to the middle class. Chances are that you, or someone in your family, have been hurt by this economy, or you know someone who is still suffering. The volume of calls at the 211 call centers nationwide is exploding as many families find themselves in need of assistance for the first time in their lives. 211 calls come from a mother who can’t feed her children and needs to find a food bank for help… A homeless vet with chronic medical problems… A family just evicted from their home in need of shelter for the night… A single mother with an asthmatic child whose electricity is about to be shut off, making it impossible to use his breathing machine… A single father of four whose unemployment has run out and now can’t cover their bills. These are the daily battles that 211 operators face on the frontlines of America’s current economic crisis.