Keeping Kids in School
“Not just where you work and where you live, but whether you are employed, have a home and the level of education you completed are all predictors of your health status,” said assistant professor Courtney Anderson, who teaches Law and Health Equity at Georgia State Law. “These social determinants of health affect your ability to take preventative measures and to seek access to healthcare.”
As moderator of an Oct. 10 panel sponsored by Georgia State Law’s Centers for Access to Justice, the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth and Law, Health & Society, Anderson described how poor housing conditions and housing instability contribute to poor health, frequent absenteeism and changing schools, leading to lower academic achievement and educational attainment.
To address the housing needs of students, Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, in collaboration with Project Built Schools and Atlanta Public Schools, launched “Standing with Our Neighbors,” an innovative initiative to improve living conditions in low-income neighborhood. AVLF panelists executive director Michael Lucas, staff attorney Ayana Jones-Lightsy, and community advocate Christal Reynolds presented on this project and how place-based lawyering can have positive impact on housing, health and education.
“These families have many problems with accessing traditional legal services, such as transportation, time off of work, childcare and cost,” Jones-Lightly said. “With place-based lawyering, literally, they just have to walk across the street.”
In addition to providing legal services, attorneys and volunteers teach self-advocacy skills to residents, helped them to organize a tenant committee and drafted a document on tenants’ rights.
Families in need of non-legal services are referred to other community resources. “Working with professionals in other disciplines helps each of us to better understand the client’s situation and to think about the families’ needs holistically,” said Reynolds.
The project is already seeing success and there are plans to expand to more schools. “Before the partnership Thomasville Heights had a turnover rate of 40 percent. After only a year of legal work focused on reducing evictions and improving housing conditions, this rate has decreased by 14 percent,” Lucas said.