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District of Columbia

Financial crisis prompts employees to close Casa Ruby

Faced eviction from buildings due to unpaid rent; staff unpaid

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Ruby Corado (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Casa Ruby, the D.C. LGBTQ community services center that provided transitional housing services for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults and support for LGBTQ immigrants, has shut down all of its programs after it lost most of its city funding, one of its few remaining employees told the Washington Blade.

Tania Cordova, a Casa Ruby official who has coordinated the group’s LGBTQ immigrant services program, said a failure to pay the rent for Casa Ruby’s offices and rental homes for its transitional housing program made it impossible for the remaining staff of about 10 employees to continue any of the group’s programs.

The Casa Ruby shutdown this week took place nine months after Ruby Corado, the group’s founder and longtime executive director, resigned last October. She announced her resignation less than a week after the D.C. Department of Human Services disclosed it would not renew an annual Casa Ruby grant of what was said to be $850,000 to operate a low-barrier shelter for LGBTQ people.

At the time of her resignation, Corado said Casa Ruby’s then-Government Affairs Director Alexis Blackmon would assume the position of interim executive director while a search took place for a permanent director. But Blackmon resigned from the interim position a short time later and Casa Ruby announced that Jackie Franco, one of its managers, would serve as interim leader for the group with the title of Chief of Staff.

According to Cordova and others familiar with Casa Ruby, who spoke on condition of not being identified, Corado retained full control of Casa Ruby’s finances and made all key decisions despite her claim to have resigned. Cordova and other Casa Ruby staffers have also pointed out that Corado since the time of her announced resignation has spent most of her time in El Salvador operating, among other things, a Casa Ruby she opened in the capital city of San Salvador.

Corado told the Blade in an interview in May that the Casa Ruby board approved the creation of the Casa Ruby in El Salvador. Among its objectives, Corado said, was to provide services for LGBTQ Salvadorans so that they would not be forced to immigrate to the U.S.

Neither Corado nor Franco could immediately be reached this week for comment on the claim by the Casa Ruby staff that they had shut down the D.C. Casa Ruby’s operations.

One source familiar with the D.C. Casa Ruby said there were only about 10 staff members left as of June of this year. Cordova said that as of earlier this year, the entire Casa Ruby Board of Directors had resigned, raising the question of whether Casa Ruby could legally operate without a board.  

The Washington Post reported this week that Casa Ruby employed as many as 100 people as of 2020, eight years after Corado founded the group in 2012.

In its 2020 IRS 990 finance report, which all nonprofit organizations are required to file each year, Casa Ruby reported its total revenue for the year was $4,161,905, with most of the funds coming from D.C. government grants. The 2020 report, the latest one the IRS has released, also shows that Corado’s salary and total compensation for that year was $260,416.

Casa Ruby sources said the group filed a request for an extension of the deadline for filing 2021 IRS 990 report because Corado had not provided the needed financial information. The sources said that while the D.C. government has withheld several hundred thousand dollars in grants for Casa Ruby in the past year or two due to “noncompliance” with the terms of the grants, Casa Ruby has continued to receive funds from private donors. And the staff has not been informed by Corado, according to the sources, on how the private donor funds have been used.

In her interview with the Blade in May, Corado said she believes the Department of Human Services, which has provided much of Casa Ruby’s D.C. government funding, as well as the mayor’s office, was retaliating against her for her outspoken criticism of the city’s handling of programs for the homeless and other programs.

The Department of Human Services has not responded to repeated requests by the Blade for its specific reasons for determining that Casa Ruby was not in compliance with the DHS grants, which prompted DHS to cut off its funds for those grants.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, in response to a question from the Blade, reacted to the news on Monday.

“I’m sad about it,” Bowser said. “And a lot of people here know Ruby and know the organization and especially know that organization when it was doing work that nobody else was doing. So, I’m very sad about it. But I also know when we give hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars and vendors aren’t being paid and employees aren’t being paid, you’ve got a problem. You’ve got a problem. So, none of us can turn our back on it. We have to fix the problem.

“So, I’m sad about it because that was an organization that has done the work. We have to figure out what happened and fix it.”

The Menkiti Group, the company that owns the building at 7325 Georgia Ave., N.W., which Casa Ruby used as its headquarters and for the low barrier shelter, claims in a Landlord Tenant Court filing that Casa Ruby owes the company over $1 million in unpaid rent and late fees, among other expenses. Corado told the Blade last year that she withheld some of the rent in a dispute over what she said was the owner’s failure to maintain the building that led to multiple violations in the city’s fire and building code.

A spokesperson for the company told the Blade last year that Corado agreed to a lease that holds the tenant responsible for all needed repairs for the building. Casa Ruby has since moved out of that building.

The landlord for two smaller buildings in the Dupont Circle area in which Casa Ruby rented space have also filed eviction notices for failure to pay the rent.

Cordova said that the Union Temple Baptist Church, which rented four small townhouses to Casa Ruby where Cordova helped to operate the group’s LGBTQ immigrant services program, filed for eviction in court over failure by Casa Ruby to pay the rent. The church owns the buildings. Cordova said the immigrant occupants of the buildings as well as she, who lived in one of them, were forced to move out.

“Everything is closed,” Cordova said. “Nobody is going there to get services because there is nobody to provide the services,” she said. “We don’t have an office, we don’t have office supplies, we don’t have an internet. How are we going to provide services?”

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District of Columbia

Whitman-Walker wins $280,000 grant to support LGBTQ immigrants

Providing legal resources for migrants facing persecution

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‘Having a lawyer can make the difference between having legal status and living in the shadows,’ said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health, which provides medical as well as legal services for the D.C.-area LGBTQ community, was among 25 community-based organizations to receive a grant from the D.C. government earlier this month to provide legal support for immigrants.

Amy Nelson, director of Whitman-Walker’s legal department, said the $280,000 grant it received from the city for 2023 marked the fifth year in a row that the city has supported its work in providing legal support for LGBTQ immigrants arriving in D.C. from countries in Latin America as well as Asia, Africa, and Europe.

“We help people file for U.S. asylum on grounds of HIV, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” Nelson said. “Most of our cases now are trans women from Central America,” Nelson told the Blade. “But we also have people from Cameroon, Russia, and Jamaica.”

She said Whitman-Walker currently has about 150 open cases, including cases handled by outside attorneys working on a pro bono basis.

Nelson said Whitman-Walker’s legal team has provided legal advice to some of the migrants arriving by bus to D.C. that the governors of Texas and Arizona have sent in recent months. But she said most of those arriving by bus from the two states plan to leave D.C. for other parts of the country.

A Sept. 16 statement released by the office of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says the mayor’s fiscal year 2023 budget allocated a total of $3.5 million for grants from the city’s Immigrant Justice Legal Service (IJLS) grant program to 25 local organizations, including Whitman-Walker.

“Over the years, the IJLS program has not only benefited DC’s immigrant residents, it has also helped us advance our DC values and strengthened the capacity of legal services providers and pro bono attorneys,” Bowser said in the statement.

“Having a lawyer can make the difference between having legal status and living in the shadows, and I am incredibly grateful for the community organizations who have worked with us to make the IJLS program a success,” she said.

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District of Columbia

Bowser pledges continued support for LGBTQ community if re-elected

Mayor addresses local LGBTQ Democratic group

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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser addressed the Capital Stonewall Democrats. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reflected on her record of support for the LGBTQ community and pledged to continue that support if elected to a third term as mayor during an appearance Monday night before the Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group.

The mayor’s appearance at the virtual Zoom meeting took place a little over four months after Capital Stonewall Democrats endorsed her opponent, D.C. Council member Robert White, over Bowser in the June Democratic mayoral primary. The group later endorsed the mayor in the November general election after she won the primary to capture the Democratic nomination.

In a city with Democratic voters outnumbering Republicans and members of two other small parties by a lopsided margin, Bowser is considered the strong favorite to emerge as the winner in the Nov. 8 general election.

“I’m thrilled to be here and thrilled to be your Democratic nominee for mayor,” she told members of Capital Stonewall Democrats, which used to be known as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.

“We spent many months, the better part of a year, going across all eight wards talking to people about their priorities for Washington, D.C., and what the next four years are really about,” she said. “And I am proud of the eight years almost now that I’ve served as mayor and the things that we’ve accomplished. And more than that, I’ve kept my word about how we would pursue D.C.’s values and our goal to make our city a more inclusive city,” she said.

“I’m also very proud of the work that I’ve done with the LGBTQ community, not only as mayor but through my tenure of service in D.C. government, which now is a little over 15 years,” she said, referring to her tenure as a D.C. Council member before being elected mayor.

“In working with our trusted organizations, all of my agency directors, all the way through the people I have appointed to serve in our LGBTQ office,” she said. “We’ve been very focused on making sure that D.C. works for LGBTQ residents.”

The mayor added, “We continue to have a focus, for example, on making sure we’re protecting our trans community from violence. But more than that, creating jobs and job training opportunities inside and outside the government.”

After delivering opening remarks the mayor answered a wide range of questions that had been submitted by members of the group and presented by the group’s president, Jatarious Frazier. Among them was a question on whether the city will partner with another organization for services for LGBTQ youth, especially trans youth of color, after the recent shutdown of the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby.

“I think we have some work to do to replace the work that Casa Ruby was doing,” the mayor said. “And I’m quite frankly sad about that,” she said, adding, “We like when some work is done in the nonprofit community. And we will be looking for trusted partners to help us replace that work.”

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District of Columbia

White House officials, HHS secretary praise local monkeypox response

D.C. Health points to data showing sharp decline in new cases

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra praised D.C. Health’s response to monkeypox.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and two leaders of the White House monkeypox response team joined officials with the D.C. Department of Health on Thursday for a visit to D.C.’s recently opened Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. in Ward 8.

In a briefing for reporters, who were invited to join Becerra and the White House officials on a tour of the clinic, the D.C. and federal officials pointed to a sharp decline in new monkeypox cases in D.C. as a sign of a successful federal and local government partnership in dramatically boosting the number of people at risk for monkeypox who have been vaccinated.

“I welcome you all to our Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic,” said Dr. Sharon Lewis, Interim Director of the D.C. Department of Health, which is also referred to as D.C. Health.

“Please take note that D.C. Health was very active in initiating back in May” the city’s effort to address monkeypox, she said. “We started our planning and as soon as we were aware of the first case in June, we had actually set up vaccines and were ready to implement our plan.”

Dr. Anil Mangla, the State Epidemiologist for the D.C. Department of Health, told the gathering the number of D.C. monkeypox cases peaked during the week of July 17, and new cases in the District have declined since then by an average of over 20 percent per week.

“I would call it our success story in D.C.,” Mangla said. “So, our cases peaked nine weeks ago, the week of July 17. If you look at the national trends and statistics, the nation essentially peaked about six weeks ago, so we were already three weeks in advance,” he said.

Mangla pointed out that the clinic where the HHS and White House officials visited on Thursday at 3640 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. and the city’s two other Monkeypox vaccination clinics are walk-in facilities where D.C. residents can go for a vaccination without an appointment. The other two are located at 1900 I St., N.W. and 7530 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Becerra praised Mangla and his boss, Dr. Lewis, and their team of public health officials for aggressively reaching out to those at risk for monkeypox, including gay and bisexual men, to encourage them to get vaccinated and promptly treating those who tested positive for the monkeypox virus.

“So, let me first say to Director Lewis, Dr. Mangla, and to all your team, thank you for being affirmative in bringing in the steps to stop monkeypox,” Becerra said. “And more importantly, to go where the people are rather than waiting for the people to come to you.”

He said D.C. efforts in addressing monkeypox were among the efforts in other cities and states across the country where a joint federal-local partnership was taking place. 

“We need strong partnerships,” he said. “We need your help, because you know the many trusted voices in the communities that you’ve got more of than we would,” he said. “We’ll provide the vaccine,” said Becerra, noting that the Biden administration in partnership with various federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, has distributed more than a million vaccine doses nationally.

Among the White House officials who spoke at the briefing and joined the tour of the Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccination Clinic was Robert Fenton, who President Biden on Aug. 2 named as White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator. Also speaking was Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who Biden named as White House National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator.

A statement released by the White House at the time Biden appointed the two men says Fenton has served as Regional Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region 9 in the western part of the U.S. and was considered one of the nation’s most experienced emergency management leaders.

The statement says Daskalakis, a leading public health expert, is currently the Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of HIV Prevention.

“Widely known as a national expert on health issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ communities, his clinical practice has focused on providing care for the underserved LGBTQIA+ communities,” the White House statement says.

In his remarks at the briefing on Thursday, Daskalakis also praised D.C. Health officials and the communities they have reached out to for encouraging behavioral changes among the groups most at risk for monkeypox.

“So, the clear message is that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, and other gender diverse folks who have sex with men are not only getting the vaccine and testing, but also what they can do in their daily lives to be able to prevent infection,” he said. “I think that is another testament to the work you’ve done and is another example of the great partnership between federal public health and local public health.”

The D.C. Department of Health’s most recent data on monkeypox cases in the city shows that as of Sept. 15, the city had a cumulative total of 488 cases, with 19 hospitalizations and no deaths. Out of the 488 total, 97.3 percent were male, and 1.2 percent were female.

Regarding the sexual orientation of those who make up the 488 cases, 48 percent were listed as gay, 5.7 percent as bisexual, 3.9 percent as straight/heterosexual, 1 percent as “other,” and 41.4 percent as “Unknown.” The data released included an asterisk for the number of lesbian cases, which a footnote says could be four or fewer such cases.

At the briefing on Thursday, the Blade asked Dr. Mangla, the D.C. Health epidemiologist, to explain why he thought the number of D.C. monkeypox cases in gay men and other men who have sex with men were initially listed by D.C. Health officials to be over 90 percent of the total cases. But in recent weeks, the Blade pointed out, the data show the number of “gay” cases were at about 50 percent or a little lower and a new category of “unknown” sexual orientation cases was in the 40 percent to 50 percent range.

Mangla said he thought the discrepancy was due to a flaw in the data gathering during the early stage of the monkeypox outbreak in D.C. that has since been corrected. “It took us a few weeks to make that kind of adjustment and to say we are now confident enough that the data is accurate for policy decisions and anything else,” he said.

He did not say whether he or D.C. Health knows which demographic groups made up the “Unknown” category of 41.4 percent in the most recent data released.

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