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Covenant House opening new low-barrier shelter for LGBTQ youths

Program Director Taylor Chandler Walker, left, Chief Operating Officer Lauren Puryear, and human resources director Darren Cook at the new, low-barrier shelter for LGBTQ young people in the Deanwood neighborhood of D.C. (Ash Rahimi/Covenant House )

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Taylor Chandler Walker’s title as program manager. She is program director. The article has been corrected.

Covenant House, a nonprofit group with locations across the country, will open a new, low-barrier shelter for LGBTQ young people Friday afternoon in the Deanwood neighborhood of Northeast Washington.

The 24-bed shelter, which Covenant House calls “Shine,” will begin operating a week after the D.C. Department of Human Services declined to renew funding for Casa Ruby, a local nonprofit that also provides low-barrier shelter to LGBTQ youths at multiple locations in the city. As of Thursday, Casa Ruby officials had raised $100,000 to keep its doors open for another month.

The department awarded Covenant House a $648,000 grant to create Shine.

Leaders at Covenant House Greater Washington said they began planning for the shelter this month as early results came in for the Youth Count, an annual survey of homeless young people. Nearly 40 percent of homeless youths in D.C. identify as LGBTQ, and 13 percent identify as transgender.

“There is a need in the District,” program director Taylor Chandler Walker said. “There are so many LGBTQIA youth who are homeless. It just shouldn’t be that way, but right now the District is committed to making sure they fill the void.”

Shine will be open 24 hours a day in a three-story building near a community center, a Metro stop — and neighbors who love to talk and help one another carry in their groceries, Walker said. Each floor can accommodate up to 12 residents, and the building also has laundry facilities, a game room, a living room with a TV, and an area where residents can eat meals prepared by a Covenant House chef.

The building also has a computer lab, where residents can complete a workforce development curriculum aimed at teaching them how to find and retain a job.

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Young people ages of 18 to 24 can just show up and stay for 90 days. As part of the Covenant House model, case managers will begin working to place them in permanent housing within 30 days of their arrival.

A spokesperson from the D.C. Department of Human Services declined to comment on the grant the agency awarded Covenant House and instead resent a statement Director Laura Zeilinger made earlier in the week about Casa Ruby.

“DHS is committed to the safety and well-being of youth, including LGBTQ+ youth, who we know disproportionately experience homelessness,” Zeilinger wrote. “We are not decreasing funding for LGBTQ+ youth services which will continue to be offered through the Continuum of Care. Covenant House Washington and True Colors will now provide LGBTQ+ specific services for youth in the Deanwood community of Ward 7. These are new services in this community.”

Walker said the staff will be culturally competent and “as diverse as the residents.” Walker is a longtime transgender and intersex activist, as well as a sign-language interpreter. She previously worked at Us Helping Us, running its workforce development program. She moved over to Covenant House, she said, in part because she wanted to pair workforce and mental health services with housing. She said she plans to be at the shelter “as much as possible.”

“I know what it’s like to be homeless,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be a survivor. I know what it’s like to be hungry. Sometimes that’s all it takes for you to make a friend, for them to know you understand them. I’ll probably get my butt kicked at video games, but otherwise I’m ready to go.”