April 14, 2009 at 1:00 am

Unemployed can get help from charities, government

Even without the cash that unemployment benefits provide, there still are a number of government, community and faith-based sources of aid to workers who find themselves without an income.

Government programs may be run by federal, state, county or local agencies, while civic, charity and religious groups often are independent operations, spread throughout many communities. The result can be red tape, dead-ends and confusion finding out what help is available and who qualifies to receive it. But several resources exist to pull together these different strands and knit them into some kind of support network.

The largest locally is the 2-1-1 program run by United Way for Southeastern Michigan, which can be accessed by dialing 211 from any phone. "We have over 27,000 services and programs in southeast Michigan," said 2-1-1 director Bill Sullivan.

"If it's not in our database, it's not there."

Whether someone who needs help qualifies for unemployment usually isn't an issue, Sullivan added.

"Very few programs require that they apply for unemployment," he said. "Our callers are not just unemployed. A lot of them are what we call the working poor, and they may be working three or four jobs to pull everything together."

Programs exist to help with rent and housing assistance, avoiding foreclosure, food and child care, clothing for school, summer camps, job training and employment counseling.

Many services, such as counseling for white-collar workers who've been laid off, are things people might not think to ask for, Sullivan said.

"People just need to become engaged in that dialogue to uncover what they're looking for -- and things they might not even know about," he said.

"If someone called 211 today and said, 'I lost my job and money is tight,' we could point them to everything from mortgage assistance to food assistance to child care, and even home repairs and utility assistance."

Another big worry for people out of work is finding health care, Sullivan said, but help is available there, too.

"Anyone who calls us, we can point them to where they can get free health care, whether they're uninsured, insured or underinsured, from Medicaid to free clinics to health fairs."