Hot line to end operations

Erie Times-News

By Emily Babay

Erie Hotline is going out of business at the end of this month.

The crisis and support help line will end operations on July 31 at 8 a.m., according to a letter sent in June to hot-line volunteers by Kathy Pistorio, Erie Hotline president, and Dick DeLuca, the director of operations. The Erie Times-News reviewed a copy of the letter this week.

The hot line cut its hours July 1. The 37-year-old hot line now operates weekdays from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. and round-the-clock on weekends. It had been available round-the-clock seven days a week.

Ending operations is the result of a shortage of volunteers, the letter said.

Pistorio referred questions about the decision to DeLuca.

DeLuca said he did not want to announce the help line’s plans until agencies that list it as an after-hours emergency number had developed transition strategies.

Family Services of Northwest Pennsylvania and some Erie County social-services offices list the Erie Hotline phone number as the number for clients to call with emergencies after normal business hours.

Officials at those organizations said they expect to have a new contact number and after-hours protocol in place by next week. Until July 31, Erie Hotline volunteers will continue to direct callers to the appropriate agencies by paging the on-call officers for those organizations.

Several organizations are working together to find a new service, but have not made a final decision on that provider, said Bob Blakely, Erie County’s chief juvenile probation officer. Blakely said the agencies are working to advertise the transition and are developing a list of groups that must be notified, such as police and child-placement agencies.

Ray Reade, director of Erie County Adult Probation, said the transition should be “relatively seamless” for people who need help after normal business hours.

His office and others want an experienced after-hours provider to take Erie Hotline’s place in directing calls to the appropriate agency, Reade said. The only difference the community should notice, he said, is the phone number they dial.

Reade and Blakely said Erie Hotline has long provided a valuable service for their organizations and the Erie area.

“They’ve done an exemplary and outstanding job,” Reade said. “They’re heroes behind the lines. We’re going to miss them.”

About 25 volunteers staff the hot line. DeLuca has said it would take 72 people to keep it running full time.

Erie Hotline was founded in 1971 and now receives 21,000 to 24,000 calls a year. That number has declined in recent years as more people have called 911 for major emergencies.

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