Douglas County principal speaks out on often-overlooked homelessness problem

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DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — The holiday season can be rough for those without a home, especially for a child. It’s especially true for a homeless child living in one of the country’s most affluent areas. A principal at a Douglas County school hopes the spirit of giving doesn’t end the day after Christmas.

“You have to look at student in the eyes and you know they need a lot of help,” said Sedalia Elementary School principal Jeff Johnson. He says he can understand if one didn’t know students at his school and throughout the district are struggling with homelessness and poverty.

“Douglas County has some statistics that can hide a population in need,” Johnson said.

One of those statistics: in 2018, Douglas County was the sixth-wealthiest county in country, with a median income of $111,154, according to U.S. News and World Report. But there are other stats that paint a different picture, like the more than 700 students who were homeless in Douglas County Schools for the 2018-2019 school year.

“Every year our numbers go up,” said Johnson, adding, “The hard thing about the statistics is there’s a kid behind each one of those numbers.”

The school district’s homeless coordinator, Jill Savage described what some of those students deal with.

“We have families that are living in shelters, cars and motels,” explained Savage.

Savage helps connect families in need to local resources. She says the job can be heartbreaking but also rewarding, particularly when seeing the community step up during the holidays.

As support pours in for those in need during this season, principal Johnson hopes the community remembers there’s always a need, and poverty exists everywhere, even in the places one doesn’t expect.

“Sometimes the easiest times to get services is during the holidays and the hardest times are the gaps between holidays,” Johnson said. “Poverty doesn’t take a break. Poverty doesn’t go on vacation.”

Those hoping to help students struggling with homelessness or poverty in Douglas County can visit the Foundation for Douglas County Schools website.