The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bowser on Casa Ruby closure: ‘We have to figure out what happened’

The nonprofit, which had closed a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youths in the fall after the city withdrew funding, closed the rest of its programs last week

Fabiola Caal Choc, 35, left, and Ruby Corado, the founder of Casa Ruby, at a Casa Ruby shelter in D.C. in 2019. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
Editor's note

This article has been updated with details about the services Casa Ruby provided that the D.C. government said it could replace when the nonprofit closed.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Monday that the city must determine what went wrong at Casa Ruby, the LGBTQ nonprofit that ceased operations last week and left workers unpaid for months.

“I’m sad about it,” Bowser said at a morning news conference held to discuss the city’s monkeypox outbreak. “A lot of people here know [founder] Ruby [Corado] and know the organization and especially know the organization when it was doing work that nobody else was doing. … But I also know when we give … millions of dollars and vendors aren’t getting paid, employees aren’t getting paid, we’ve got a problem.”

The mayor’s comments came a day after a Washington Post report raised questions about possible financial mismanagement at the nonprofit. The report was based on interviews with former employees, court records, tax filings and thousands of emails to and from officials at the D.C. Department of Human Services obtained through a public records request.

Casa Ruby shuts down the rest of its operations, and workers go unpaid

Casa Ruby reported more than $4.1 million in grants and other revenue on its most recent federal tax filings, which showed that Corado earned $260,000. But employees say they have gone without pay, and at least four landlords have told city agencies that the nonprofit did not pay rent on properties that it leased across the city for its low-barrier shelter and transitional housing programs.

Casa Ruby “was an organization that has done good work, so we have to figure out what happened and fix it,” Bowser said.

Though Bowser told reporters “none of us can turn our back” on Casa Ruby’s struggles, some activists Monday said on social media and in interviews that they had been trying for years to draw attention to what they described as a long-standing problems at the nonprofit.

One of them, Preston Mitchum, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocate and activist, said he was pleased the issue had finally come to light but disturbed that it took so long.

“This is something that many Black folks in D.C. have been saying for quite a long time, and it’s about time that people start to listen to us first,” Mitchum said.

Corado did not respond Monday to emails or messages sent on social media.

DHS withdrew an $836,000 grant to Casa Ruby to run a low-barrier shelter last fall, and Corado resigned as executive director soon after. Inside the organization, the staff struggled to continue to provide transitional housing and other services, according to former employees and DHS emails. But outwardly, it appeared to many to be a functioning organization and people continued to donate money to it until last week.

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

In a statement to The Post, a DHS spokesman said: “We currently have beds to meet the demands of LGBTQ+ youth through dedicated beds with other providers.” He did not address whether that included other services Casa Ruby provided, such as beds for LGBTQ asylum seekers.

“Grant renewal decisions are based on ensuring accountability and continuity of quality services and the safety of our residents,” the spokesman said. “We value the contributions of our partner organizations and do not publicly comment on matters of the performance of individual grantees.”

D.C. Council member Brianna K. Nadeau, the chair of the Committee on Human Services, did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

At least two regular donors told The Post that they had stopped making contributions to the nonprofit, and a Casa Ruby employee confirmed that others had as well. At least one person has asked that their donation be returned to them.

Mitchum said he hopes the young people and employees who were left without housing, services or employment get the “healing and money they deserve” now. But the city, he said, should have acted sooner.

“If people were to have actually listened to Black activists, advocates and organizers over the years,” Mitchum said, “we could have saved many, many young people who needed these important services.”

Michael Brice-Saddler and Ryan Bacic contributed to this report.