A suicidal New Yorker picks up the phone. He dials the number of the city’s oldest crisis-intervention hotline, HelpLine, in a last-ditch effort to save himself. Instead of a concerned counselor, what he hears at the other end is a recorded voice saying: ”You have reached HelpLine. Due to extenuating circumstances, this program is no longer in operation.” The voice then refers callers to 311 or 911.
This is not some ”Saturday Night Live” gag. On Dec. 31, HelpLine shut its offices in Marble Collegiate Church on West 29th Street in Manhattan after having served more than two million people over 37 years. Its two staff members and 120 volunteers had received two weeks’ notice and little explanation. Its callers received no warning.
Financial pressure faced by the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, which administered the hot line for the past five years, led to the closing, said Mindy Liss, a spokeswoman. With operating costs reaching at least $350,000 a year, the board decided to eliminate HelpLine from its roster of 185 charitable outreach programs. Calling the closure ”a very difficult decision,” Ms. Liss said that the board had explored options for directing callers to another service, or at least providing them with an explanation for the shutdown, but that none seemed economically realistic.
HelpLine was often the only ear some New Yorkers had for their problems.