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October 21, 2009 > How a disaster transformed services

How a disaster transformed services

Submitted By Eden I&R/2-1-1 Alameda County

After the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989, thousands of Alameda County residents, primarily very low-income individuals and families, were homeless. Their homes or rental units were either completely destroyed or uninhabitable due to structural damage.

At that time, there were no countywide, housing databases or listings available for people to quickly locate low-cost or subsidized housing units in this area.

The day after the quake, Eden I&R (Information & Referral) was approached by an independent businessman who wanted to help people find housing. He was aware non-profit Eden I&R managed a database of health and human services and a phone line that operated Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

The businessman offered Eden I&R computers and a customized database (plus training) if the agency was willing to gather information about housing availability in the county and immediately make the resources publicly available.

Within five days of the earthquake, the Community Housing and Information Network (CHAIN) program went live. Landlords and private home owners called to offer their vacancies at reduced rates, sometimes free, to people made homeless by the earthquake.

The CHAIN housing database was used at Red Cross shelters and advertised throughout the public and private recovery channels as THE source for housing/vacancy information, at no charge, for landlords and prospective tenants.

Twenty years later, as of October 2009, the CHAIN database contains more than 70,000 listings. Thousands of individuals, families and organizations access the information annually. Each housing record contains information such as move-in costs, wheelchair accessibility, languages spoken by the property owners or managers and amenities in the area.

The CHAIN phone line became the 2-1-1 phone line two years ago and now distributes information about health, housing and human services to approximately 400 callers daily. The 2-1-1 phone line is answered by live Resource Specialists, 24/7, in multiple languages.

Today, Eden I&R is better prepared than two decades ago to respond to a disaster. Agency staff participates in disaster drills annually and have implemented back-up procedures to ensure Alameda County residents remain informed before, during and after a disaster. Therefore, when another earthquake strikes, Eden I&R can immediately provide health, housing and human service referrals to those affected. Additionally, as one of the major public communication systems, 2-1-1 helps divert non life-threatening calls away from the 9-1-1 phone system, saving the county funds and lives.

2-1-1 (or 888-886-9660) is a toll-free phone number providing free and confidential information and referrals to callers from Alameda County.

For more information about Eden I&R/2-1-1 Alameda County, visit or Alternatively, contact Barbara Bernstein, Executive Director, Eden I&R, 570 B Street, Hayward, CA 94541 or call (510) 537-2710, ext. 8 or email

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