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Inside Out at City Hall: Who You Gonna Call?

AnniseThe complete 411 on phoning for city services.

By Annise D. Parker

Help can be only a phone call away if you know the right numbers. Unfortunately, many people don’t know about helplines or are confused about the 211, 311, and 911 helplines.

211 Helpline

The United Way of Greater Houston’s 211 helpline handled 575,509 calls in 2008. The 24-hour 211 service ( provides free, confidential information and referral for help with food, housing, employment, health-care, counseling, children’s and veterans’ services, and more.

It also serves as a primary information source during disasters. Disaster services include the Special Transportation Registry, which gathers critical information from people who have special needs and require assistance during an evacuation. Call to register at least 48 hours before a storm strikes. Help is available in about 150 languages.

311 City Helpline

Need to report a broken traffic light, pothole, or low water pressure? Call 311 with these and other city service-related issues. City of Houston service representatives will handle your complaint, give it a tracking number, and forward your request to the appropriate department. Using the tracking number, you can call back to check the progress of your request.

A service request form is available online at Phones are answered seven days a week, 6 a.m. to midnight. After midnight, lines are transferred to Utility Maintenance (PWE) for response.

The 311 number, which is used nationally, was created to alleviate the flood of non-emergency service calls coming into 911 systems.

911 Emergency Calls

The regional emergency number, 911, should only be used in emergencies. An emergency is any situation that requires immediate assistance from the police/sheriff, fire department, or an ambulance. If you’re ever in doubt about whether a situation is an emergency, you should call 911. It’s better to be safe and let the 911 call-taker determine if you need emergency assistance.

Call 911 in emergencies, including:

• heart attack or stroke
• house fire
• domestic violence
• burglary, theft, or assault in progress
• car accidents with injuries.

Do not call 911:
• when the power goes out (call CenterPoint at 713/207-2222)
• to report a broken fire hydrant (call 311)
• when your water pipes burst (call 311)
• to get a ride to the hospital in a non-emergency situation
• for your pet (go to your vet or 24-hour animal emergency clinics)
• as a prank. (It’s against the law.)

The police non-emergency number, 713/884-3131, can be used to request information, contact officers, request an officer to come to your home to take information about a burglary, or for other non-emergency matters.

County Community Services: 713/696-7900

Harris County offers a wide range of assistance for low-income Houstonians, mostly through its Social Services Division at 9418 Jensen Dr. You must call for an appointment. For more information and preliminary application, see

Services include:

• county cemetery and indigent burials
• rental and utility assistance
• case management services for low-income and the disabled
• veterans’ services (or call the city Office of Veterans, 832/393-0992).

713/368-RIDE (7433)

Harris County’s Transit Services Division offers several services for low-income residents, including non-emergency transportation, both shared ride and taxi service. RIDES is a curb-to-curb subsidized program that allows eligible customers and participating agencies to purchase tickets for $3, half the regular price.

• Taxi service: the cost of this metered same-day service is based on the rate of the meter fare box. Customers may use a maximum of eight tickets on a one-way trip. Same-day trips can be booked 90 minutes in advance.

• The cost of shared ride service is based on the distance from the point of pickup to the destination (one to seven tickets for a one-way trip). Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance.

A candidate for Houston’s mayor in the November 3 election, Annise D. Parker is Houston’s third-term city controller and one of the highest-ranking openly LGBT-elected municipal officials in the U.S. Her webpage is To receive the controller’s newsletter, send an e-mail to

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Annise Parker

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker is the President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and LGBTQ Victory Institute. A complete list of Victory Fund-endorsed candidates is available at

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