SWON Staff Members Reflect on First School Year

Imagine walking through a neighborhood where the children greet you with smiling faces, even though they might not have food in the refrigerator or a safe place to sleep at night. Their home may be filled with leaks and mold, or maybe their parent just received an eviction notice. This is what we experience most days as we work in Forest Cove, a large apartment complex in the Southeast Atlanta neighborhood of Thomasville Heights. 

Children are resilient – their smiles and laughter are a testament to that. But these children live in a neighborhood notorious for terrible living conditions. Much of our work is unsettling. We’ve received frantic calls from residents saying they’re being forced to vacate. We’ve heard gunshots in the distance as we walk through the complex. We’ve seen the charred aftermath of a Molotov cocktail thrown through a resident’s window.

But much more of our work is rewarding. The pro bono representation provided by nine supporting law firms (and us!) helps more families remain in their homes. Ultimately, because of this stability, more children will remain at Thomasville Heights Elementary School in the long-term and remain a part of the community. We want to give these kids a chance to thrive.

“Did you bring my stickers?” a four-year-old child asked as we walked to visit a neighbor. We hadn’t that day, but we promised to bring them the next time we came down. These moments are beautiful because they mean that the children are beginning to recognize us as positive figures in the community and in their lives. As we head upstairs, another child asks, “Aren’t you one of the lawyers that help Forest Cove people?”

The residents encounter us in many settings: school, court, a local restaurant, or walking around the neighborhood. The more time we spend with them, the more they are open to receiving help. These days, parent ambassadors and existing clients don’t hesitate to refer others to us. 

No one can argue that being forced to leave your home and uproot yourself from your community is difficult for adults. It is even harder for children, who must leave their schools, friends, and neighbors – all the things that make childhood memorable. Our clients in Thomasville Heights regularly face the challenge of moving out of their homes. It is often not a voluntary move, but one that is forced on them by poor conditions, such as mold and infestations or a miscommunication with management.

One of the more rewarding aspects of this place-based initiative is that we can immediately see the positive impact. A mother can approach us, anxious and upset because she can’t keep her children healthy. Her refrigerator has been broken for months, and she can’t keep insects out of their food. We can talk to her landlord – sometimes with legal processes, sometimes without – and within a week’s time her fridge will be fixed. Suddenly, for the first time in far too long, this mother can buy groceries again. These moments make every hardship worthwhile.

These seemingly small actions – a call to a landlord, a demand letter sent – change the lives of the people we work to help. They are already facing huge obstacles in their day-to-day: they don’t have the income to meet their own daily needs and are not respected in many spaces.

Thomasville Heights is getting a large injection of resources, bringing hope, help, and advocacy to the neighborhood’s residents. It is an honor to be a part of this work. 


Staff Attorney, Standing With Our Neighbors

Community Advocate, Standing With Our Neighbors