By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting

Sarah Hamilton, new executive director of Aurora Warms the Night (AWTN), has big ideas for expanding services to Aurora’s homeless population and better connecting the homeless and those with homes. The organization, which provides motel vouchers, as well as hygiene and food baskets to the homeless when the weather is 20 degrees or below, is a life-saving resource to individuals and families living on the streets in Aurora. Though the name implies that services are only offered during cold weather, Hamilton explains that AWTN is also a safe haven in the summer­­—opening its doors to those seeking refuge from the summer heat who are given an air conditioned environment in which to relax, a cold glass of lemonade, and even a meal when regular meal service is interrupted at the local church-run soup kitchen.

This week’s Big Ideas blog is based on an interview with Hamilton in which she expressed great enthusiasm for the work AWTN currently does and shared some ways she would like to move the organization forward.

The problem

In times of extreme weather, motel vouchers and food baskets can be a lifesaving resource­­—but AWTN and community partners want to go further and provide a more holistic approach to helping homeless individuals and families in Aurora.

Further, local residents often know little about the homeless people who reside in their community, creating a disconnect between those with homes and those without.

The solution

AWTN places high value on community partnerships that allow clients to access a wide range of services. On days where the weather is predicted to be 20 degrees or below, AWTN opens at 10:00 a.m. to distribute vouchers and baskets, but also to provide clients the opportunity to meet with an intake specialist. “The intake process asks what services

[homeless individuals and families] need, use and have not been able to access,” says Hamilton. “We’re taking the opportunity to create a network with our human resources providers to direct to other agencies, or schedule an appointment that day to go to Aurora Mental Health Center.”

While no one is required to access additional services, AWTN and local partners, like Aurora Mental Health Center, believe it’s important to provide clients with all the tools they need to reach self-sufficiency in the future. “My motto is empowering people to empower themselves,” Hamilton states.

As she expands the services AWTN provides beyond emergency shelter, Hamilton also aims to strengthen community and bridge the existing gap between the homeless in Aurora and local residents.  One way this is done is by extending invitations to community members to support their homeless neighbors on the road to self-sufficiency and empowerment through volunteer opportunities and public events. During AWTN’s April 13 spaghetti dinner fundraiser, diners will have the unique opportunity to share a hot meal as friends and neighbors, both homeless and not. Activities like these are ways in which AWTN invites the larger community to get to know their homeless neighbors and provide support.

Community members are also invited to volunteer to fill food and hygiene baskets, deliver food baskets to individuals and families staying an additional night in motels, and participate in AWTN’s June wine tasting event. For more information on how you can get involved with AWTN and its partners, email or call phone 303.366.6806.