If they can’t do it, Williams says the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services plans to take her two children, Austin, 12, who has Down syndrome, and Ashley, 14, into state custody because of the poor condition of the trailer.
Austin and Ashley, whose father died of a heart attack in 2006, have been staying with Williams’ mother in Cumming since last Thursday when, Williams says, she was given a week to make repairs to the house, buried in a hollow off Upper Bethany Road.
The mother expects a DFCS worker to look over the house today and make a decision about whether her children can come back, though she said she’s pleading for an extension.
Williams said the children are desperate to come home. Austin, who is deaf and mute in addition to having Down syndrome, has been making the sign language signal for “momma” and crying since he was sent to stay with his grandmother, Williams said.
Despite the ramshackle appearance of the house, with its rusted roof, hazy windows and clutter all around, Williams’ longtime friend, Brandy Godfrey, said the mother is doing the best she can with a bad situation.
“I know she doesn’t have help, and I know she doesn’t have the money to put into it,” said Godfrey, who organized the efforts to help the family. “I’m willing to do anything because she’s trying all she can.”
Williams, a 36-year-old Cherokee County native, lives in the house with her boyfriend, Austin, Ashley and her older son Scott, who has been allowed to stay because he is 17. The mother said problems have been mounting during the 18 years she’s been in the house, after leaks in the roof and holes in the walls have led to many repair jobs and Band Aids to hold the place together.
But she says it’s the best she can do with low wages from her part-time job as a maintenance worker and few prospects of getting better employment.
“I can’t afford rent nowhere else,” Williams said, adding the trailer belongs to her. “It’s hard to find a job between the hours my kids go to school.”
DFCS got involved in Williams’ situation last Thursday, after officers with the Cherokee County Marshal’s Office came to investigate a complaint about dogs her boyfriend was keeping out back.
While officers were checking on the animals, they noticed the condition of the house and called DFCS, said Marshal’s Office Deputy Chief June Killian.
“It appears to be quite unstable, in a serious state of disrepair,” Killian said Wednesday, adding the eight dogs were suspected to be neglected and were taken. “We’re going to do what we can on our side to make sure it complies with the county ordinances and that people are living in a livable condition.”
Killian said DFCS would be making the call about whether the children could live in the house.
Cherokee DFCS Director Charity Kemp said Wednesday she was barred from speaking about cases to the media and couldn’t even confirm if there was an investigation into Williams’ home. Kemp did say DFCS concentrates “on the safety of children,” and she cautioned different people’s “perspectives are sometimes different.”
To look at the trailer, Williams agrees there are huge problems.
Inside, cheap repairs to the holes in the walls have left plywood and boards tacked up. The floors are uneven, with a mix of hardwood, tile and linoleum. Blankets hang over windows that have been broken out, and the furniture is aged and beaten up.
Outside, clutter of all kinds has accumulated through the years because, Williams says, there was nowhere to put it. On Wednesday, the volunteers were throwing it all on a growing mound, filled with tires, metal roofing, rugs, kids’ toys, old clothes, shoes and more.
Lending a hand
The volunteers have been coming to the house off and on since last week. They got involved when a distraught Williams made a post to friends on Facebook, asking for prayers after the first meeting with DFCS.
She got a lot more than prayers.
Godfrey, who has known Williams for more than 20 years, saw the post and asked her what was wrong. When Godfrey found out DFCS was considering taking the kids, she wanted to find a way to help.
“Anybody else, I would have probably been skeptical about the kids being taken away, but I know her,” Godfrey said outside the house Wednesday. “I know her son that has Down syndrome, and I can’t imagine what he’s going through not being with his mom.”
Godfrey found others to help out by making a post to members of a Facebook group dedicated to lending a helping hand to those in need in Cherokee County, “Friends Helping Friends In Cherokee and Surrounding Areas.” The group has about 350 members and was inspired by the “Snowed Out Atlanta” group, which sprung up to help those affected by the snowstorms that ravaged metro Atlanta earlier this year.
Jason Johnson, owner of Supermann Tree and Roofing Service, heard about Williams’ plight from another Facebook post from the creator of Snowed Out Atlanta and drove from Lawrenceville to pitch in, though he’d never met Williams.
“I don’t know anybody here,” he said.
Even though it was a “hike” to Williams’ house and he was doing it for free, Johnson said he was always happy to help anyone in need.
“It’s the way I was born and raised,” he said. “I’m from a small town in South Carolina, and we had 6,500 people. When somebody needs help, you go help them.”
The mother was touched by the efforts of the volunteers. But, mostly, she just wants her kids to come home.
“It is miserable,” Williams said. “It is miserable.”