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Colorado's K-12 Homeless Student Population Growing Fast

The Huffington Post     First Posted: 08/10/11 07:15 PM ET   Updated: 10/10/11 06:12 AM ET

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.

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  • An 11-year-old keeps a close grip on his younger sister as they follow their mom to the back of the line for the Healthy Kids Fair at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. The coalition provides free medical checkups, vaccines, lunch, haircuts and backpacks full of new school supplies for homeless and transient students once a year.

  • Before the doors opened at 9 a.m. on Saturday, August 6 the line stretched around the building and was made up of about 150 people with children.

  • A couple of brothers leave the line. They did not come with their parents.

  • Two boys wait patiently in line at 8:45 a.m.

  • The most popular spot in the building by far was the face-painting and art station in the entryway.

  • Frida, age 8, anxiously waits to see the clinician for her Hepatitis A shot. Her mother, who is pregnant, waits with her in the room just outside of the picture.

  • Frida, 8, hides her tears behind her long dark brown hair while getting immunized for school.

  • Johnny, 8, waves to the camera before meeting with the coalition's dental volunteer.

  • The coalition's volunteer compliments Johnny's dental work and okay's him to move on to the next station.

  • A volunteer shows a young girl how to take care of her teeth by having her brush a stuffed kangaroo's teeth.

  • The girl's father didn't speak English, but quietly led his daughter around to each medical station. Holes can be seen in his shoes.

  • A young boy plays while waiting in line.

  • Young boys watch other kids get their faces painted.

  • A girl and her older sister stay close at the art table. Their parents did not come.

  • A family turns to look at the camera while waiting in line.

  • Coalition volunteers pose for the camer while waiting to greet kids with backpacks after they complete their medical checkups.

  • Backpacks ready to be given to the children lay in a heap, already loaded with school supplies. Their contents contain average supplies requested by Denver schools, because each school has a slightly different list. Kids could choose their backpacks.

  • Coalition volunteers display pamphlets about asthma, a common health defect among homeless children and pig lungs to remind them to stay away from smoking.

  • Lizabeth Hall, left, plays the double bass with Carissa Gonzales, right, for the families waiting in line at the Healthy Kids Fair. Both girls are students at the Denver School of the Arts.

  • A close-knit family of young elementary students sit quietly in line with their grandma waiting to see the clinician. They had been waiting for at least two hours. From left to right: Jorge, 10, Aresmi, 7, Anette, 4, Ashley 5, and Jasmar, 9.

  • A family waits to see the coalition's medical volunteers.

  • After going through every medical station, collecting their backpacks with new school supplies for the year and sack lunches, the kids do some dancing to Beyonce's "Move Your Body" song. The coalition offered the dance as part of <a href="" target="_hplink">First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!"</a> kids' health campaign.