AURORA | In her three months in Aurora, Sarah Hamilton has noticed a troubling trend about the city’s homeless population: they often go unnoticed.

“I feel that sometimes, the voices of the homeless are invisible in Aurora,” she said

Sarah Hamilton, executive director for Aurora Warms the Night is seen Jan. 18 outside the American Legion Post 87 in Aurora. Hamilton took over as executive director for the organization last fall. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)
Sarah Hamilton, executive director for Aurora Warms the Night is seen Jan. 18 outside the American Legion Post 87 in Aurora. Hamilton took over as executive director for the organization last fall. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Hamilton, who took over last fall as the new director of Aurora Warms the Night, wants to change that.

“I want to be a voice for them,” she said. “Homelessness is a real problem that exists in Aurora”

Aurora Warms the Night, which gives hotel vouchers to the homeless on the coldest winter nights, is one of just a handful of agencies around town dedicated to helping the city’s homeless.

Hamilton took over in October for long-time AWTN boss Mary Hupp, who retired from the organization last year.

Her first winter at the organization’s helm started pretty smoothly for Hamilton, with just one two-day cold snap in November that required the organization to activate and distribute vouchers.

Then, December hit.

That month saw a brutal stretch of cold weather that included 11 consecutive days where the organization activated. Mid-January saw another cold snap. So far, the group has doled out more than 850 nights of shelter this winter.

Hamilton said those stretches were certainly busy, but having spent 15 years in the nonprofit sector and having responded to several disaster areas before, she was ready for the rush of needy clients.

While this winter has already proved to be a busy one, Hamilton said she expects the need for services to continue to grow. One reason, she said, is the camping ban that Denver enacted last year. The ban has meant many homeless who once stayed on the Denver side of Yosemite Street have moved to Aurora because they aren’t allowed to sleep outside in Denver.

Already, AWTN has helped first-time clients who said they came to Aurora because of Denver’s camping ban, she said.

“That’s really going to create a greater need for our services,” she said.

Beyond raising awareness about the city’s homeless, Hamilton said she wants to continue to expand AWTN’s role in the community. That means being an organization that not only helps the homeless find a warm place to stay when the temperature dips, but also helping them year round, regardless of the weather.

For a few years the organization has been working to expand its role, opening the doors of their headquarters at 1555 Dayton St. during the hot summer months so the homeless can cool off during the heat of the day.

Hamilton said the group also has therapists from Aurora Mental Health on hand everyday to work with clients, and once a week a representative from Veterans Affairs is on hand to work with the homeless vets. They also provide job-seeking help and link area homeless with health care providers.

“I’m trying to have us be a hub to connect people,” she said.

With their north Aurora headquarters, the organization is in the perfect spot to help the area’s homeless, Hamilton said, and she’s hoping to take advantage of that proximity to connect the homeless with services they need.

Barbara Kennedy, president of AWTN’s board of directors, said growing beyond the six-year-old organization’s original mission is vital.

“When you are tagged as a cold-weather organization, people don’t think about you at any other time,” she said.

Hamilton is ideally suited to growing the organization that direction, she said.

“She has no reluctance, no hesitation about reaching out into the community,” Kennedy said.

Mary Lewis, vice president of the organization’s board, said Hamilton has the right mix of patience, compassion and firmness to tackle the job.

“She takes control of the situation well, and sometimes you have to do that with this population,” she said.

Hamilton said she has had a passion for helping the homeless since she was in high school where she and her mother volunteered at soup kitchens in her native Iowa.

“My mother really instilled in me that everyone is equal,” she said.

Working at AWTN is exciting because the organization fills a crucial need in the community.

“There isn’t a shelter in Aurora so Aurora Warms the Night is exceptional,” she said. “We are the first line of defense for the homeless in cold weather.”

14 replies on “New director of homeless outreach organization settling into busy role of helping needy”

  1. Sarah is not only a great executive director, she has made it so easy for our organization to get involved and help. Our people had a great experience and want to do it again.

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