Back to school event responds to increasing homelessness

The halls of Coon Rapids High School were filled with students, parents and school supplies Aug. 6 for a four-hour back to school event.

 Secondary Technical Education Program Instructor Crystal Scott gives a student a free haircut at the back to school event at Coon Rapids High School for Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 students. Photo by Bethany Kemming

Secondary Technical Education Program Instructor Crystal Scott gives a student a free haircut at the back to school event at Coon Rapids High School for Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 students. Photo by Bethany Kemming

Families with students in Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 had the opportunity to receive free school supplies, backpacks, food, haircuts, resources and more through approximately 20 vendors that participated in the event.

A second annual back to school event also took place at Champlin Park High School Aug. 6. This is the first time the event was held at Coon Rapids High School.

Volunteers verified that each student or family was registered in Anoka-Hennepin, anywhere from kindergarten through 12th grade. Homeless Youth and Families Liaison for Anoka-Hennepin School District Karrie Schaaf said keeping track of who came and what school they attend will help the program in the future.

“If we want to expand… we can either rotate to different parts of the community or expand to another school and have three schools next year,” Schaaf said.

After checking in, families and students were able to browse the hallways and pick up gently used clothing items, food and information from organizations such as Alexandra House, Anoka-Hennepin Early Childhood programs, the Community Emergency Assistance Program (CEAP), Anoka/North Metro Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Job Corps and more.

After waiting in line outside before the event, many students and families also waited in a long line for the free cell phones available to those who qualified through Life Wireless.

Students had the opportunity to get free haircuts on the spot from local hairdressers. Back to school sports physicals and wellness check-ups were also available at Coon Rapids, while the mobile dental check-ups were available at Champlin Park.

North Metro Pediatrics will be having a mobile dental event in this area in the fall, according to Schaaf.

Around 15 Coon Rapids High School football players volunteered at the event as a team, according to Schaaf.

Volunteers from the school district, faith partners and the local community also participated in the back to school event.

Books, winter wear and clothes were all available and grouped according to age range or size.

Schaaf said the donated clothing items came from Pathways, the district’s food and clothing distribution center, and were looked over and washed before being offered to students.

Around 180 students attended the event last year at Champlin Park High School.

Schaaf said the district saw the need to expand the program to Anoka County and decided to also offer it at Coon Rapids High School this year.

While many students came with their families, Schaaf said it was entirely possible that homeless youth would come on their own. The increase in homeless youth in the area is one of the reasons the event was offered, according to Schaaf.

In the 2010 to 2011 school year, Schaaf said the district identified 248 students that were experiencing homelessness.

Although she is not done calculating the numbers, Schaaf said at least 560 students were experiencing homelessness during the 2011-2012 school year.

These findings led Schaaf to adopt a “Why not?” attitude for holding this event.

“We’ve more than doubled the number of families experiencing homelessness… if we can get kids ready for school and can help, we should,” she said.

Many families expressed gratitude on receiving the school supplies and clothing during the event.

“I liked it, I really appreciate it,” Illianna Carrington said after receiving winter clothes at the event.



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