Huffpost Denver

Colorado's K-12 Homeless Student Population Growing Fast

Posted: Updated:

This year there will be over 18,400 Colorado students completing their homework without a home.

Over the past six years the state's K-12 classrooms have seen an 84.3 percent increase in homelessness among its students, according to data from the Colorado School Finance Project. Forty percent of the public's total K-12 student population are receiving free or reduced lunch.

Last weekend the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless hosted a back to school "Healthy Kids Fair" for students who are missing out on health care and school supplies. Immunizations, dental care, eye doctor check-ups, hair cuts and new backpacks are provided at the clinic just once a year but would be almost entirely out of reach if it weren't for local help.

Dr. Judith Wilson, a family practice doctor and the medical director in charge of the clinic, says that without the combined backpack donation and Stout Street Clinic, many of the children would start each school year significantly behind their peers.

Dr. Wilson told The Huffington Post:

This day is one of the most important days of the homeless clinic every single year because there are way too many homeless children in this city, and most of them start school behind. They're behind on things like immunizations, they haven't had a dental check or an eye check, some of them maybe ever...

This is a fun day, but this is also an extremely important day for the health of these children.

Homeless children are more susceptible to illnesses than housed children and have four times as many asthma attacks, five times the stomach problems, six times more speech problems, and more.

In the United States, homeless families who have children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

One of the children last year, Dr. Wilson said, didn't know that he was legally blind before they gave him an eye exam.

"The look on his face when he came in and put on those glasses, was just priceless," Dr. Wilson said.

Colorado has 179 school districts, and under the national McKinney-Vento Homeless Education liaison every single one supplies a liaison to ensure that the students are identified. Many of the districts even have a web portal to let families know that a program exists to help them offset some difficulties for their children if they are homeless.

While the highest numbers are in Denver and Jefferson County public schools, other school districts have seen shocking increases. In three years (from 2006-2009) Fort Morgan School District saw a 244 percent increase in homeless students, while Aurora Public Schools have seen a 109 percent increase.

All photos were taken with parents' permissions, by Veronica Rael.