Reading vs. Understanding: The True Issue

headshotBy: Tyler Almon, HeLP Fall 2017 Student Intern

After hearing through the grapevine about what to expect from the HeLP Clinic, I understood that my casework this semester would involve email communication and drafting pleadings, along with an introduction to the atrocious legal issues surrounding the Atlanta area. What I did not know, however, was the real problem that lied behind every document and email regarding these cases. The real problem was called “life.” What our clients’ lives entail is something that a HeLP intern could never even begin to feel or imagine until seeing it in person.

Throughout my cases, I have been able to see first-hand the struggles that people are going through, ranging from mold inside an apartment, to children with chronic asthma, autism, and developmental delays. The issues seem unbearable to our clients. The worst part of it all was that they didn’t have anybody else fighting for them. That is the clinic’s job, to be the voice for the clients who have none otherwise.

As a person looking in from the outside, it would seem reasonable to believe that you would have to take a house tour for a client who is having disputes with their landlord. However, it would not seem reasonable to believe nor expect some of the uninhabitable conditions that our clients are living in. When you think of disputes with landlords over home damage, you think of some cracked ceilings and chipped paint. You don’t think of a home infested with mold, rotted flooring, and flooded bedrooms. Unfortunately, this is what is to be expected when dealing with certain cases at the HeLP Clinic, and this was the hardest part of it all. It shows a true distinction of what you expect to see through hearing about the clinic and email communication, versus what is actually out there. The conditions and nature of these kinds of issues are unfathomable. This is what makes working at the HeLP Clinic that much more rewarding: getting clients out of situations that they would otherwise be stuck in if it were not for us.

Additionally, other cases that involve more health-related issues can be even more disturbing. A person working outside of the clinic, reading one of our pamphlets can see that we deal with clients who have sicknesses, and are seeking Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. However, when you are faced with a real client whose children have everlasting debilitating diseases, only then can you truly comprehend the problems that are really out there. When you are able to do a walk-through during patient rounds at Hughes Spalding, watching a doctor hold in his hands a 14-day old baby who can hardly breathe, can you then understand the magnitude of what our clients face on a daily basis?

All in all, what I have experienced in my time with the HeLP Clinic has been so valuable and memorable. I would encourage each and every law student in the country to try and somewhat get involved with issues like these, whether it be through a clinic, pro bono work, etc. It is so different to see and hear about things through magazines, paperwork, and second-hand sources. When you are able to experience the clients’ day-to-day struggles and actually see the harm being done to kids and adults, you will then realize how important it is to give these people a voice.