The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Casa Ruby, shelter for LGBTQ youth, loses D.C. government funding

Fabiola Caal Choc, 35, left, listens to Ruby Corado, the founder of Casa Ruby, a bilingual LGBTQ organization and shelter in D.C., as she tells the story of her fight as a transgender woman and human rights activist. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

A nonprofit serving LGBTQ youth is scrambling after the D.C. Department of Human Services informed it Friday that the city would not renew an $850,000 grant.

Representatives for Casa Ruby said city officials gave them less than a week’s notice before cutting off the funding, which the nonprofit has used to pay for a 50-bed emergency shelter and drop-in center for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults.

Executive Director Ruby Corado has since launched a GoFundMe appeal with the goal of raising $75,000. That amount could keep the shelter running for no more than another month, and the nonprofit will likely lay off half of its employees, many of whom are former clients, said Alexis Blackmon, director of government affairs for Casa Ruby. By Tuesday evening, donors had contributed more than $74,000. Corado could not be reached for comment.

“We have alerted our clients to let them know, but we’re not going to stop them from coming even after the first [of October]," Blackmon said. “The purpose of the GoFundMe is to continue to raise funds to try to ... offer some forms of services within the community. So depending on how well our fundraising and our grass-roots goals, we may be able to try to self-fund a low barrier [shelter].”

Casa Ruby opened in 2012 as a small bilingual drop-in center with a handful of volunteers. Since then, the nonprofit says it has expanded to an organization with more than 100 employees, shelter beds in seven locations and a new office in El Salvador. It now offers a range of services, from emergency shelter to health counseling to immigration services. In 2014, the nonprofit took in $261,725 a year, according to its federal tax filings, and Corado earned just $31,895. By 2019, the nonprofit was reporting nearly $3.5 million in annual revenue, and Corado was earning close to $250,000.

Still, the organization has struggled to cover some expenses. Earlier this year, Corado launched a separate GoFundMe campaign to save the nonprofit’s low-barrier housing program. Corado said in that fundraising appeal that an electrical fire and subsequent dispute with the landlord forced the organization out of the building it was renting at 7530 Georgia Avenue NW. That campaign raised more than $108,000.

A spokesperson for the Menkiti Group, which owns the building on Georgia Avenue, said in a March statement to the Washington Blade that Corado’s organization had not paid rent since 2018 and owed the landlords more than $450,000.

Still, Corado wrote on GoFundMe this week that her nonprofit was “set” to move back into the Georgia Avenue location before the city announced its decision. A Menkiti Group representative did not immediately return messages.

Corado filed a discrimination complaint against DHS in March, according to the Washington Blade, after the official who oversaw the nonprofit’s grant allegedly engaged in anti-transgender discrimination. Soon after, DHS announced that it might reduce the amount it awarded the nonprofit by half, a move Corado told the Blade she thought was a retaliation for her complaint.

Representatives for DHS did not return messages seeking comment. In a statement released earlier to reporters, Director Laura Zeilinger wrote, “DHS is committed to the safety and well-being of youth, including LGBTQ+ youth, who we know disproportionately experience homelessness. We are not decreasing funding for LGBTQ+ youth services, which will continue to be offered through the Continuum of Care. Grant renewal decisions are based on ensuring accountability and continuity of quality services and the safety of our residents. We value the community organizations who deliver these services and honor the contributions of Casa Ruby.”

At a news conference Tuesday celebrating the opening of a Chase Bank, Mayor Muriel E. Bower (D) said she didn’t know “specifically” why DHS had declined to renew the grant.

“That was an agency decision. There’s probably a good reason,” Bowser said. “Our duty is to use D.C. taxpayers’ money appropriately and effectively.”