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Pisgah Legal lawyers fight war on poverty

Eleanor Owen Eleanor Owen

There is an ugly truth that lies in the beautiful mountains in which we live. Thousands of children, and their families, are living in poverty. While the percentage varies county by county, on average 25 percent of Western North Carolina children are living at or below the federal poverty line. In Henderson County that number is 22 percent.
These are children whose families are homeless or are at risk of homelessness; children who are often hungry and go without medicine, warm coats, school supplies and other essentials; and children whose mothers are abused but cannot afford to leave a violent home.
Twenty years ago, the Children’s Law Project at Pisgah Legal Services(PLS) was created to help solve these devastating problems of poverty and to ensure that children in our community have what they need to thrive. Pisgah Legal is a nonprofit law firm that provides free civil legal aid to improve the lives of individuals and families in crisis in six mountain counties in our region.
Over the past two decades, we estimate that Pisgah Legal staff and volunteer attorneys have helped 70,000 children. PLS assisted more than 15,000 people in WNC in the last year alone, including more than 5,500 children. In 2015, PLS helped 1106 Henderson County children avoid homelessness, escape abuse and secure their basic needs.
The Children’s Law Project helps address a lack of funding for programs serving low-income women and children in our region. It’s incredible to me that these critical services continue to be underfunded when they are proven to be so successful.
An attorney can be a highly effective advocate for a child in crisis. A severely autistic child who has his health care benefits wrongfully terminated can’t fight to have them reinstated, but a lawyer certainly can. When a family is living in dangerous, substandard housing, the children pay the price for sleeping in a dwelling that is filled with black mold or has raw sewage in the crawl space. An attorney can represent that family in court to compel an unscrupulous landlord to make repairs and ensure their home is safe. And for a child terrorized by domestic violence, a lawyer can help his or her mother escape safely – and take the child with her – to build a life free from abuse.
Pisgah Legal Services is committed to working with partners across WNC to reduce child poverty and the terrible suffering that comes with it. Earlier this month Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of The Children’s Defense Fund, and a lifelong advocate for children, spoke at the 6th Annual Pisgah Legal Poverty Forum. During her inspiring presentation, I was especially moved by these words – “If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.”
The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I call on you and others from across our region to join with me and Pisgah Legal Services to improve the lives of low-income children and their families who call our mountains home, because they, too, will be our future.

Eleanor Owen is a long-time supporter and former Board Chair of Pisgah Legal Services. For more information on PLS visit www.pisgahlegal.org. The Henderson County PLS office is located at 440 South Church Street, Hendersonville, NC 28792 or call 828.253.0406.