It was a fine line: Decline in call volume discontinues crisis hotline as of June 1

Decline in call volume discontinues crisis hotline as of June 1

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette The crisis line started by the former Dial Help, now part of Copper Shores Community Health Foundation, will be closing as of June 1.

HOUGHTON — As more specialized crisis lines have grown in popularity, a line that has served Copper Country residents in need for more than half a century will be discontinued.

The Copper Shores Community Health Foundation’s crisis line, run by the former Dial Help, is being discontinued on June 1.

The decision came after lengthy deliberation and a long-term decline in calls, Copper Shores staff said.

Kristine Martens, outreach and education program director at Copper Shores, thanked community supporters, people who donated to support it and those who called it during their time of need.

“It was a real grassroots effort for a long time,” she said. “And there are people who, through their generosity, kept it going and kept it open. And we appreciate everything everyone has done to help support that service up here.”

The line started in 1971 as Dial Drug, a project of volunteers looking to help people in the Keweenaw dealing with substance abuse disorder. It broadened to a wider crisis line in 1974. The same year, it expanded to the entire Upper Peninsula.

At its peak, about 30,000 people a year called in seeking help. Call volume has gradually decreased, with the drops becoming more pronounced in recent years. After losing a large contract in 2008, call volume was down to about 4,000 a year, or around 11 calls a day, said Rebecca Crane, senior program director at Copper Shores.

“We built it up, but then it’s been slowly decreasing,” she said. From around nine calls per day in 2016, the number fell to 1.02 in 2023. The number saw its sharpest decline after 2022, after the national Lifeline program moved from a longer 10-digit number to the shorter 988. Those calls have been answered by a call center downstate.

“Our call volume dropped significantly after that,” Crane said.

When the crisis line was created, there were few other places to call. Since then, hotlines have grown substantially, many of them staffed with specialists to respond to specific traumas such as sexual assault or domestic violence, or serving marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+ people.

For much of its run, the line was staffed by workers and volunteers at the office in downtown Houghton; Crane and Martens both spent about a decade answering the crisis line. A couple of years ago, the line moved to using a call center downstate.

“I think when our crisis line was operational it was very useful to this community … The individuals that we spoke to, we definitely were making a big impact in their lives,” Martens said. “But as that call volume kept decreasing and decreasing, we realized that people who were sticking around were people who call the crisis line often and weren’t necessarily in a crisis or in need of crisis services. They were individuals who just over all the decades we had been open, kind of got used to checking in with us.”

Many of the people who call the line also check in with others, which should allow them to transition to the other lines, Martens said.

Reflecting the movement to more specialized lines, Copper Shores is launching a new sexual assault crisis line on June 1. The line will be available to residents to Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties.

The line will provide phone, text and live chat support from professionals with knowledge about Michigan and coping techniques and resources geared to sexual assault victims.

The line is one of the first to be launched in partnership with the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“We approached them and said, ‘Is this something you guys would provide as a service?’ and they said that was something they were looking into,” Martens said. “So it was just a nice arrangement for all of us to come together and offer the service up here.”

The other programming offered by the former Dial Help remains in place, such as victim support programs like its child advocacy center, and outreach and education programs such as the Safety Net program, which provides follow-up support to people dealing with suicidal thoughts, loss of a loved one to suicide, complex crisis, or addiction.

A list of resources and call centers for the community can be found at coppershores.org/resources.


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