The telephone is the tool of choice in an emergency. If someone is trying to break into your house, you dial 9-1-1.
In Minneapolis if you're having problems paying your mortgage, you can dial 3-1-1, to learn how to stay out of foreclosure.
And if you lose your job and your house, you may wind up calling 2-1-1, according to Caty Jirik, the director of the United Way's 2-1-1 information line -- formerly known as First Call for Help.
"2-1-1 is actually the three-digit number that was set aside by the FCC in the year 2000 for information referral across the country," she said.
“We have been seeing, over the last few months, new callers. Folks saying, 'I've never had to call a service like this before.'”Caty Jirik, United Way
Last year, they received more than 400 thousand calls from people in the Twin Cities area.
Operators referred callers to a range of services including legal help, job training and mental health counseling. But Jirik says most of the calls involved the basics, like food, clothing and shelter.
She says 2-1-1 calls have doubled over the last five years. But they've gotten particularly heavy as the economy began its downward spiral in late 2008.
"We have been seeing, over the last few months, new callers to 2-1-1," she said. "Folks saying, 'I've never had to call a service like this before. I've never had to use a food shelf. But I just got laid off and my spouse got laid off. And we don't know how to make ends meet.' We see families that are in distress that are having trouble dealing with so many different things from the loss of jobs, to financial problems."
And then, there are times when the problems can turn violent.
Martha Naegeli works with the Tubman Family Alliance a facility that runs emergency shelters in Minneapolis, St. Paul Park and Lake Elmo.
"This kind of stress leads to conflicts within the family," Naegeli said. "The problem is that in families that are particularly vulnerable to violence, that conflict results in a need for real safety for women and children."
Naegeli says shelter demand is up 20 percent over last year.
She says the recession has added additional barriers to keeping women out of violent relationships. Fewer jobs and a lack of affordable housing, means clients at the shelters stay longer, which means there's less space for new people to move into.
Hennepin County officials say they've seen an increase in calls to a service called COPE -- or Community Outreach for Psychiatric Emergencies.
Supervisor Martin Marty says since 2006, they've seen a doubling of calls and in-home visits.
Part of the increase in calls can be chalked up to growing public awareness of the service. But Marty says lately counselors have seen increasing numbers of older professional men who've lost their jobs.
"They define themselves through their job. Sometimes if that's lost, and we've seen people go through downsizing or just the job loss that occurs for them - they struggle with their sense of self and purpose," Marty said. "And the symptoms of depression emerge. They might have had a depression in the past, but now this just puts them over the top."
Marty says two-thirds of the calls they receive are from people exhibiting signs of depression or who report having thoughts of suicide.
Ironically, as the need for these service increases, the resources to fund them are becoming more scarce.
Marty says he's not heard of any plans to cut their budget. But Hennepin County will need to find some way to make up for millions of dollars in cuts to state aid.