DC’s oldest LGBTQ shelter forced to cut services after city’s funding cut

The nation’s longest-running LGBTQ homeless shelter was forced to turn away homeless clients, mostly transgender women, after the city refused to renew much of its funding.

Ruby Corado, founder of Casa Ruby, the only bilingual LGBTQ services organization in Washington, received a notification late last month from the DC Department of Human Services that her annual grant of $ 839,000 to fund a 50-bed shelter in Northwestern DC was not renewed for fiscal year 2022, which began October 1.

“We appreciate the work Casa Ruby has done to serve homeless youth in the District of Columbia,” read the letter, signed by Sheila Strain Clark, Acting Assistant Administrator of DHS Family Services Administration. .

In the letter, which Corado shared with NBC News, Clark added that the department may extend the grant in the future, “at its discretion and subject to the availability of funding.”

Ruby Corado (seated) with guests at Casa Ruby in Washington, DC on July 19, 2016.Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Casa Ruby’s operating costs totaled approximately $ 3.2 million in 2019, according to the most recent publicly available information. The interrupted funding represents about 40% of its planned municipal funding, according to Corado, who said Casa Ruby will still receive about $ 1.3 million. of the District this fiscal year.

But that means the organization has had to cut 28 jobs, stop offering overnight stays at its Georgia Avenue shelter and end 24-hour reception services, according to Corado.

The letter came as no surprise, she added, as the agency had been at odds with Casa Ruby for some time.

“The surprise is that they did it in such a bad way,” she said, noting that Casa Ruby had received less than a week’s notice that the grant would not be renewed. “These clients are in crisis and don’t want to leave.

Founded in 2006, Casa Ruby provides food, shelter and case management to a diverse community, although many clients are transgender and gender non-conforming youth of color. Initially, the organization operated a single drop-in center, but it expanded to seven locations in the DC metro area, including several group homes, a small pharmacy, and a legal services office.

He operated the Casa Ruby shelter on Georgia Avenue in DC’s Shepard Park neighborhood for four years, after moving from a townhouse in 2017. Corado said the shelter helps about 20,000 people a year, the center d welcome alone accommodating 250 people on any day.

But the rent is nearly $ 30,000 per month, and the staff add $ 41,000 per month, according to Corado. “Maybe $ 839,000 seems like a bit, but for us it’s huge,” she said, “because it disrupts the biggest operation we’ve ever had.”

In a Facebook post on September 25, Corado said that due to the budget cut, Casa Ruby is expected to close the Shepard Park low-barrier shelter imminently “during Covid and as the season approaches. hypothermia ”. A low barrier shelter places minimum requirements on guests who wish to stay there.

“Some housing programs will kick them out if they don’t come home by 10 am, but I don’t,” Corado told NBC News in 2017. “I work with them. I understand them because they do. have trauma. I have trauma. “

The organization has run an emergency shelter since 2012. Corado calls it “our most important program,” adding that more than half of the clients are from neighboring states.

The closure of the shelter was not only a great loss for the Delaware, Maryland, Virginia area, “but now we have lost a national resource that welcomes hundreds of vulnerable clients who seek refuge from violence each year,” said she wrote in the Facebook post.

“Now there will be no more safe space, and that’s a tragedy,” Corado told NBC News.

Some longtime former clients, including many trans women of color like Corado, used to work for Casa Ruby and now face unemployment and homelessness, Corado said.

“Some employees have to return to the streets and commit to survival [sex] work, ”she wrote on Facebook.

Corado told local news site DCist that over the years the district has praised Casa Ruby when it was politically appropriate, but opposed its goals when they strayed from it. agenda of city officials. “I was good for a photoshoot,” she said. “But when the other problems happened, that was it.”

Her organization’s relationship with DHS began to deteriorate about three years ago, Corado said, when she had a disagreement with a DHS official. we were ready to support them, we could get a reception center.

Corado felt the location was unsafe for his customers as it would be near the site where Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds, a 22 year old trans woman, was shot and killed in a robbery army in July 2016, the Washington Blade reported. . Prosecutors have accused two men of targeting transgender women in the region (a trial overturned in 2019).

“I have lost a lot of children in this neighborhood,” Corado said. “Not all money is good money.”

Since declining the offer, Corado said “the relationship has changed.”

Six months ago, in an administrative complaint against DHS, Corado claimed than the same official with whom she had a dispute three years ago Treated her and other Casa Ruby employees in an “unprofessional, harassing, abusive and discriminatory” manner.

The official, whose name has been redacted from public copies of the complaint, is said to have been “useless” in the operations of Casa Ruby and to have sent clients from another shelter to Casa Ruby without proper warning of possible exposure to Covid. 19.

“Confidence between [redacted] and Casa Ruby was gutted, ”Corado wrote in the complaint. “I have personally had conversations with Casa Ruby staff and staff at other shelters and have been told that [redacted] maintains a physical or personal “blacklist” for shelters she does not like.

Corado said DHS began trying to fund his organization a month after Casa Ruby’s complaint was filed, first cutting funding for the Georgia Avenue shelter in half and then withdrawing it altogether.

“I can’t say that they refunded us because of this discrimination complaint, but I can say that after that a series of events took place,” Corado said. “I think it’s clear that they see Casa Ruby as Ruby Corado. They don’t see the customers.

In an emailed statement to NBC News, DHS said the agency “is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of young people, including LGBTQ + youth, whom we know live well. disproportionate roaming “.

While he did not address the specific issues that led the agency to end funding – or respond to NBC News’ request to speak with the official named in Corado’s complaint – the statement said that “The decisions to renew grants are based on the responsibility and continuity of the quality of services and the safety of our residents.

Allowances for services to LGBTQ youth were not reduced, DHS noted, but instead redirected to other organizations, including Covenant House Washington, which took the space in Deanwood which Corado refused. Guests at Casa Ruby’s refuge are redirected to Covenant House.

“Trans people have been shot there, intimidated and harassed,” Corado said of the neighborhood. “Most of our properties are in the Northwest because [our clients] feel safer there – we try to help them build their lives.

Corado was determined to keep the doors of Casa Ruby open throughout the pandemic – providing meals, emergency accommodation and emotional recordings, “because so many of our customers had nowhere to go.”

In March 2020, at the start of the Covid-19 crisis in the United States, she told the New York Daily News that Casa Ruby provided 327 shelter stays in just 10 days, an increase of almost 40% from in the previous month. It was the only shelter in DC that remained open 24 hours during the lockdown, she told NBC News, providing services to around 54,000 people last year alone.

DHS is also funding an emergency shelter for six people run by Casa Ruby and another halfway house that can accommodate another 10 people.

“I have to keep my fingers crossed and assume they’re still funding us” for these programs, Corado said.

Casa Ruby is also receiving money from the DC Office of Victim Services, which increased its funding for the organization in 2022, Corado said, as he was happy with his Covid-19 efforts. (The organization also secured a budget increase from the DC Department of Health and the city’s Latin American Affairs office.)

Corado hopes grassroots supporters can help the organization overcome the current crisis, at least temporarily. A GoFundMe campaign has raised over $ 115,000 to date.

Right now, the Georgia Avenue facility is still operating, but the overnight shelter is closed and the support center is no longer open 24/7. “We hope to continue as much as possible.” , Corado said. Some clients who did not want to be transferred to Covenant House were placed in hotel rooms.

In the long run, Corado said, she would like to make Casa Ruby less dependent on government largesse. “If we’re lucky, we can mobilize enough resources to do it on our own – we’ve done it before. ”

Last year, Corado said, she made the decision to step down as executive director of Casa Ruby “because I haven’t seen any compromise from city leaders.”

“I cannot fight a system that is not meant to be broken,” she said, adding that she was getting tired of the politics of her job.

Due to the pandemic, however, she did not follow through last year, but has now said it’s time to hand over the reins – and said she was determined to see the organization that she founded survive her tenure.

“It must be the new generations who are moving forward,” she said.

On Friday, Corado announced that Alexis Blackmon, director of government affairs for Casa Ruby and former client, has been appointed interim director as a nationwide search is launched for new leadership.

“For now, what I want is to make sure that we focus on the real issue here, which is that vulnerable people no longer have a safe space,” Corado said.

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