EJ Becker (left) lets homeless families with children in first as Amanda Marosy writes down individuals' information Jan. 12 at Aurora Warms the Night. The nonprofit organization handed out 26 vouchers and had to turn the rest of the crowd away but not without providing them with bus passes to Aurora's only other homeless shelter Comitis which is across town. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | A small business owner and a group of homeless advocates will be meeting at an East Colfax laundromat Wednesday, May 4, to host an informal conversation about homelessness in Aurora.

Organized by the city’s Aurora@Home organization, the event at Laundry on the Fax is intended to highlight the difficulty some families have maintaining clean clothes, and how a local business owner is using a voucher program to quell that dilemma.

“This is more of an awareness and education event and an opportunity for folks in the general public to stop by, and … (hear) about what we’re seeing in the homeless population in Aurora,” said James Gillespie, spokesman for the Comitis Crisis Center.

Gillespie said that idea for the gathering started after the last meeting of the Aurora@Home Education and Advocacy Subcommittee, which regularly meets at the MLK Jr. Library on East Colfax Avenue to discuss and develop homeless advocacy efforts. That’s where he met Yemane Habtezgi, owner of Laundry on the Fax, a laundromat at 10941 E. Colfax Ave. The two chatted about hosting a less formal event where the public could learn about the state of homelessness in Aurora.

“We wanted to connect the broader community with those who are experiencing homelessness, but not in such a formal setting that’s so planned out and intentional in the realm of a strict agenda,” Gillespie said. “Just provide a nice territory where people can focus and have a community conversation.”

The decision to host the gathering at Laundry on the Fax stemmed from the work Habtezgi has done with the city’s homeless population for nearly the past year. Through partnerships with Aurora Warms the Night, Colfax Community Network, and Projects to Assist in the Transition from Homelessness (PATH), Habtezgi provides up to 100 free laundry vouchers every week to residents of north Aurora who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford such services.

The city invested $3,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to help get the program off the ground last winter.

“You have your meals taken care of, your housing taken care of, maybe, but at the end of the day you and your kids need clean clothing to be able to go to school or put yourself out there for a job interview,” Gillespie said.

About 54 percent of youth who use homeless services reported needing help in finding adequate laundry services, according to an April report released by Street Outreach Program tied to the Family and Youth Services Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families.

Gillespie added that he hopes the event at the laundromat this week will shed light on what other small business owners can do to help the city’s homeless community.

Gillespie said that the Comitis Crisis Center operated at 108 percent capacity in the first quarter of 2016, providing 13,680 bed nights of shelter of a theoretically possible 12,649 nights of shelter. Gillespie explained that the extra bed nights are the result of shelter workers carving out additional space on particularly busy days.

“That extra 8 percent is when we clear out the dining room and we put out cots and mats, using the full capacity of the shelter,” Gillespie said.

Aurora@Home’s Education and Advocacy Event at Laundry on the Fax

3 – 5 p.m.

May 4

10941 E. Colfax Ave.

Call 720-975-0155 ext. 13 for more information.