Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, at least seven LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups in D.C. that provide services for area youth and adults say the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.
An informal survey conducted by the Washington Blade found that the local LGBTQ supportive groups Casa Ruby, Whitman-Walker Health, SMYAL, Wanda Alston Foundation, HIPS, and Food & Friends have experienced an increase in the number of clients reaching out to them for services.
At the same time, officials with several of the organizations have said restrictions put in place to curtail the spread of the coronavirus by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, including a ban on events that draw large numbers of people and the shutdown of hundreds of small businesses, some of which donated money to the LGBTQ nonprofits, have resulted in a drop in revenue for the groups.
The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community has said it, too, could encounter a decrease in revenue if the epidemic’s restrictions force the cancellation of fundraising events later this year. The Center announced on its website in March that restrictions put in place related to the epidemic forced it to temporarily close its offices at 2000 14th St., N.W., but many of its member organizations were holding events remotely online through the video streaming service Zoom.
The Center also announced one of its most popular projects, the Reel Affirmations LGBTQ Film Festival, would offer monthly film showings remotely on demand. This month’s offering, in celebration of Black Pride Month, will be the film “Pier Kids,” which portrays the lives of a group of LGBTQ youth of color, some of whom were kicked out of their homes. The DC Center says a “ticket” for $12 can be purchased to view the film from Friday, May 15 through Monday, May 18, at thedccenter.org.
Ruby Corado, founder and executive director of the D.C. LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby, said Casa Ruby is among the local groups experiencing a dramatic increase in clients seeking, among other things, emergency housing, since the coronavirus outbreak hit the city in full force in early March.
Unlike some of the other LGBTQ groups, Corado said, closing the doors of its headquarters building and community services center at 7530 Georgia Ave., N.W. and working remotely with clients through online “visits” is not an option.
“We cannot close and ask our clients to call from home,” Corado said. “We are their home,” she said in referring to the homeless LGBTQ youth for whom Casa Ruby serves as an emergency shelter.
Corado said the business shutdowns, including the temporary closing of local LGBTQ bars and nightclubs, resulted in a drop in donations for Casa Ruby in the past two months. She said she’s hopeful that others who have not been as severely impacted financially by the epidemic will come forward with financial support.
D.C. gay businessman Anthony Shop has joined forces with gay Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Randy Downs to launch an initiative called Take-Out to Help Out that the two say is aimed at helping both small LGBTQ businesses and nonprofit LGBTQ groups like Casa Ruby.
Shop told the Blade the Take-Out to Help Out group has raised about $3,000 so far, which it will use to pay local LGBTQ restaurants and bars that offer food service to produce meals to be delivered to the employees and clients of LGBTQ nonprofit groups like Casa Ruby, SMYAL and others.
“Meals will be purchased from LGBTQ-owned businesses that have been affected by the economic effects of the pandemic and provided to nonprofit organizations that serve LGBTQ+ youth at risk of homelessness,” a statement released by the group says.
Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s largest private provider of HIV and other health related services with a large LGBTQ client population, has said its large number of clients and its launching of two COVID-19 testing sites required it to switch most of its non-COVID patients to a “telehealth” remote visit system beginning on March 23.
As of early May, Whitman-Walker has provided nearly 6,000 telehealth visits to patients and clients either by phone or online video streaming. But according to Naseema Shafi, Whitman-Walker’s CEO, the number of telehealth visits were 2,000 fewer than the usual 8,000 in-house patient visits for the same six-week period that occurred before the coronavirus restrictions began.
Shafi told the Blade in an email that in addition to a drop in fundraising activities caused by the epidemic’s restrictions, Whitman-Walker discovered that insurance companies and to some degree Medicare pay less for telehealth visits than for in-person visits, causing an additional loss in revenue.
“We have lost over a half million in revenue impact from COVID in one month,” Shafi said. “We started to see loss in revenue in March and this will continue for the foreseeable future. We will need support from all areas, but especially from the community,” she said.
Shafi said Whitman-Walker nevertheless will continue its longstanding mission as a first responder providing care for patients and the community. She noted that as of early May, Whitman-Walker tested over 385 people for COVID. Out of those tested, 15 percent were transgender, 42.3 percent were lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and 33 percent were people living with HIV. About 100 of those tested were found to have a positive test result, she said.
SMYAL, which provides services for LGBTQ youth and in recent years opened two houses for homeless LGBTQ youth, is hopeful that members of the LGBTQ community will provide the financial support SMYAL needs to continue its programs during the epidemic, according to spokesperson Hancie Stokes.
Stokes told the Blade last month that SMYAL, in response to social distancing restrictions put in place by the city, has had to close its offices and youth drop-in center on Capitol Hill and switch to virtual counseling and other interaction with its youth clients.
“For many of the youth who come to our drop-in and leadership programs, they were in the middle of their spring semester, seeing friends on a daily basis, and the stay-at-home orders were a huge disruption to those routines and community,” Stokes said.
“Youth have talked about how they felt disappointed, sad, or incomplete given that graduations and other milestones that they’ve been working toward have been cancelled or moved virtually,” Stokes told the Blade. “One youth told us, ‘Personally, I know that I am scared. With my school closed, I lack my usual community, support and structure…leaving me alone, isolated, and disoriented,’” Stokes quoted the youth as saying.
June Crenshaw, executive director of the Wanda Alston Foundation, which among other things operates the Wanda Alston House for homeless LGBT youth in Northeast D.C., said the coronavirus outbreak has had an adverse impact on both the foundation’s finances and the nine youth who reside at the Alston House.
“Obviously, as a shelter we are essential and still open and doing business,” Crenshaw said, adding that new protocols had to be developed to ensure the safety of the staff and youth residing at the Alston House.
“Obviously our residents can’t go to school or go to work and so they may have to shelter in place,” she said. “And I think that isolation and being disconnected from friends and potentially having to stay in shelter longer is causing all kinds of stress.”
According to Crenshaw, 75 percent of the Alston Foundation’s revenue comes from city government grants, with the remaining 25 percent coming from private contributions from supporters. She said the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in a decrease of between 25 and 30 percent in private donations, in part because of the cancellation of planned fundraising events.
Crenshaw said the Alston Foundation was also among the large number of nonprofit organizations and small businesses that were unable to obtain a U.S. Small Business Administration payroll loan because of the initial internal delays at the SBA. She said the foundation obtained the loan, which is forgiven if used to pay employee salaries, in the second round of loans funded by Congress.
Food and Friends is one of D.C.’s largest nonprofit groups. It was founded in the early 1980s to provide home-delivered meals to people with AIDS, including gay men with AIDS. It has since expanded its mission to provide meals for homebound people with other serious illnesses.
According to Abigail Seiler, the executive director, the coronavirus outbreak has had a significant adverse impact on Food and Friends. In an April 17 statement on the group’s website, Seiler said the epidemic has resulted in a dramatic increase in Food and Friends’ clients as more people who become ill from COVID-19 and others who have to self-quarantine after testing positive for the virus are in need of home-delivered meals.
“Medical providers are referring more seriously ill patients to Food and Friends so that they don’t need to venture outside of their homes,” Seiler said. “Fewer caretakers are able to take that risk as well, further increasing demand.”
She said Food and Friends delivered 4,000 more meals the first week of April compared to the first week of March. At the same time, she said, social distancing policies have resulted in a drop in the number of volunteers that Food and Friends relies upon to help prepare and deliver meals to its clients.
“Food and Friends is operating in a different world,” Seiler said in a message to its supporters. “But the support you’ve shown us is helping us meet the demand today and preparing us to still be there for those who need us in the future. As our supporters, you are our foundation.”
Two other nonprofit groups that provide services to LGBTQ clients – Us Helping Us, which provides HIV and other health related services, and HIPS, which provides services and support for sex workers – have said coronavirus restrictions required that they close their offices for in-person visits and to switch whenever possible to virtual visits with clients.
Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made through the links below:
DC Center, thedccenter.org/donate
Food & Friends, foodandfriends.org
Take Out To Help Out, givebutter.com/TakeOutToHelpOut
Wanda Alston Foundation, wandaalstonfoundation.org/support-us
Whitman-Walker Health, whitman-walker.org/give
Casa Ruby, casaruby.org/donate/
Us Helping Us, ushelpingus.org/donate