More than 835 children attending Colorado Springs School District 11, the area's largest school district and one of its poorest, are homeless.
They live in motels. Or crash at a someone else's house. Or live in a shelter.
In a district of about 29,000 students, that's 1 in 35. Two years ago in February, that number stood at 500, or about 1 in 60.
"We have seen a tremendous increase in the number of students that we have identified as homeless in our district," says Holly Brilliant, D-11's Title 1 director and homeless liaison. "... Homelessness affects so many more people now than it used to. And it's affecting people that would classically be considered higher- or middle-class people. The face of homelessness is not that homeless guy on the corner asking for money anymore. It really is families."
Brilliant's job is to identify homeless families in D-11 — who are often too embarrassed to self-report — and make sure they're getting the benefits for which they're eligible.
For starters, they don't need to apply for free lunches and breakfasts for the kids; those are automatic. Second, a federal mandate requires the district to pay for school supplies for homeless children. Third, counseling is an option for children who are struggling emotionally.
Finally, if a family moves out of its neighborhood after losing its home, the district is able to provide transportation, so the kids can stay at the same school — it might be a school bus, or a reimbursement for mileage driven by a parent, or a city bus pass for a teenager.
"That is huge for those kids because oftentimes, when a family becomes homeless, there has been some kind of crisis within the family itself, and the school becomes the only stable thing in those kids' lives," Brilliant says. "And that's especially true if a kid is moving from motel to motel to motel. And that happens a lot."