NORCROSS, Ga.—Every weekday around 3:15 p.m., a big, yellow school bus stops on Pelican Drive outside Norcross Extended Stay, near the intersection with Best Friend Drive.
Dozens of children file out, carrying their heavy backpacks away from the Wendy’s and the AutoZone, towards the cluster of aging three-story yellow buildings where they live. Some are met by waiting parents, others trek by themselves to the shabby motel rooms, marching past broken-down cars, their tires flat, scattered around the parking lot, and discarded mattresses piled next to some of the residences.
That families are living in extended-stay motels like this one may seem surprising in a town like Norcross, founded in 1870 and named one of the best places to live in Georgia by Movoto, a real estate blog, last year. Gwinnett County, where Norcross is located, is, in parts, a collection of well-off towns like Duluth, home to NeNe Leaks, of Real Housewives of Atlanta fame. Its unemployment rate is just 5.7 percent and one of its schools, the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, was recently named one of the best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
But the suburbs of Atlanta no longer hold just the promise of good schools, clean streets, and whitewashed homes with manicured lawns proudly displaying American flags. They are increasingly home to the very poor, who find themselves stranded in suburbs without the kind of transit or assistance that they might once have found in cities’ urban cores. They are stuck in places like Norcross Extended Stay, that see the same type of crime that families might have once seen in metro Atlanta. (A few years back, the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department had to order 20 sex offenders to leave the motel, because it was located near a public pool.)