In a little-noticed development, an organization that oversees the city’s housing programs for the homeless terminated its contract with the local group Transgender Health Empowerment to operate the Wanda Alston House, the city’s only residential facility for homeless LGBT youth.
The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness on July 1 awarded the Alston House contract to Casa Ruby, an LGBT community center on Georgia Avenue in Northwest D.C. with an outreach to the Latino and transgender communities.
The action by the Community Partnership, which is funded by the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS), came after it determined that T.H.E. was no longer capable of overseeing the Alston House due to financial problems that forced it to lay off most of its employees in May, sources familiar with the organization said. T.H.E. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 7.
“They reached out to me and asked me if Casa Ruby could do this and, of course, I said we would,” Ruby Corado said in referring to a call she received from the Community Partnership’s executive director, Sue Marshall.
“My immediate reaction was it would be a tragedy for the clients if the Wanda Alston House was forced to close,” Corado told the Blade.
Corado is the founder and executive director of Casa Ruby
Under the new contract the Alston House will continue to operate at its current location at 804 46th St., N.E.
Dora Taylor, a spokesperson for DHS, said the contract was awarded to Casa Ruby on an interim basis and is scheduled to last until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Although the contract places Casa Ruby in charge of the Alston House’s finances in the role of fiscal agent and case manager, staff members formerly associated with T.H.E. will continue to operate the house.
Corado said she is considering taking steps to have the contract extended beyond that date, saying she believes Casa Ruby provides a good fit for the Alston House and its programs.
However, Earline Budd, one of the founders and most recently a program director for T.H.E., said former T.H.E. official Brian Watson informed her he was in the process of creating a new non-profit corporation to operate the Alston House called the Wanda Alston Foundation.
Records with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ Office of Corporations show that someone reserved a corporate name of Wanda Alston Foundation on July 2 but the required incorporation papers had yet to be filed.
Watson, who has been involved in the day-to-day operations of the Alston House since it opened in July 2008, was reluctant to comment two weeks ago when the Blade contacted him about the status of the Alston House in the midst of T.H.E.’s financial crisis.
“Right now the house is stable and open and occupied to capacity,” he said “I can’t comment on any changes that may have taken place.”
He didn’t respond to calls from the Blade this week seeking information about his plans for an Alston House Foundation.
A call placed to the Alston House was answered by a recorded message that identified Watson as the director of the house. A July 11 message posted on a Facebook page created by the Alston House states, “On behalf of the Wanda Alston House, we are pleased to announce its services are up and running under the Wanda Alston Foundation!”
The Facebook posting adds, “With the support of Casa Ruby, as its fiscal agent, the Wanda Alston House is moving forward with its mission, to increase the overall quality of life for LGBTQ youth in the District of Columbia.”
A message posted on the website of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community on May 17 suggested the Alston House at that time was encountering problems meeting the basic needs of its clients.
“A collection box has been set up at the D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.) for donations to the Wanda Alston House” for items such as shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, canned food, toilet paper, and bed sheets and pillows, among other items, the D.C. Center message said.
David Mariner, the center’s executive director, and Michael Sessa, the center’s board president, each said the center has provided assistance to the Alston House at various times since it opened in 2008. Mariner acknowledged that Watson contacted the center but said further details on the matter should be obtained from Watson.
The Alston House is named after the late lesbian activist who, among other things, served as director of the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs under Mayor Anthony Williams. Alston was stabbed to death in her home in Northeast D.C. on March 16, 2005, in what police said was a robbery attempt by a male neighbor that was not linked to her sexual orientation.
Her murder shocked the LGBT community, which recognized Alston for years of advocacy on behalf of LGBT and feminist causes, including efforts to assist LGBT youth.
Christopher Dyer, who served as director of the GLBT Affairs office under Mayor Adrian Fenty, said Watson played a key role in pushing for city funding for an LGBT youth homeless facility more than a year before the Alston House opened.
“Brian has been the one who has pushed for this from the beginning,” Dyer said. “I’m really pleased that it was able to survive.”
In a 2008 press release announcing its opening, the mayor’s office described the Alston House as a “groundbreaking housing program for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in Washington, D.C. It is the first transitional living program dedicated to preparing GLBT youth for independent living and adulthood in the District of Columbia.”
The house accommodates eight residents and has facilities for one or more adult supervisors who are present at the house on a 24-hour basis.