Tireless advocate Ruby Corado is taking on LGBTQ homelessness

Transgender activist Ruby Corado is known affectionately as "Mama Ruby" among Washington D.C.'s LGBTQ youth.

After escaping war-torn El Salvador in the 1980s, the advocate overcame a series of hardships before founding homeless LGBTQ shelter and advocacy organization Casa Ruby in the nation's capitol. She lived on and off the streets after losing her job at a rental office when she came out as transgender in the mid-1990s. Though she struggled, the experience inspired her to dream big.

"I had a dream I was running a gay [homeless] shelter, and in this dream I was putting these satin sheets on the beds, and it was so pretty, and it was very gay," Corado said.

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Casa Ruby: Homeless LGBTQ shelter
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Casa Ruby: Homeless LGBTQ shelter
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 19: Transgendered woman Tanisha Phillips, 20, hugs Ruby Corado, founder of Casa Ruby, an outreach center for LGBT in Washington, DC on July 19, 2016. Corado started the center 12 years ago. When she was only 16, her father encouraged her to leave El Salvador and go to the U.S. She arrived in DC alone, no family, and without resources. She became a sex worker for several years and at times was homeless. She eventually evolved into an activist for LGBT with emphasis on latin transgenders. Casa Ruby now consists of four different types of housing, from emergency to boarding, and Corado says they are all filled, and 100 more names sit on a waiting list...some traveling from far and wide to be under her wing of acceptance and safety. This growing community fosters a sense of family and support for those who have been rejected by family and the outside world. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: (L-R) Transgendered male Charlie Thompson talks with and transgendered female Mariah Hill chat outside Casa Ruby, an outreach center for LGBT in Washington, DC on July 20, 2016. Casa Ruby's founder, Ruby Corado started the center 12 years ago. When she was only 16, her father encouraged her to leave El Salvador and go to the U.S. She arrived in DC alone, no family, and without resources. She became a sex worker for several years and at times was homeless. She eventually evolved into an activist for LGBT with emphasis on latin transgenders. Casa Ruby now consists of four different types of housing, from emergency to boarding, and Corado says they are all filled, and 100 more names sit on a waiting list...some traveling from far and wide to be under her wing of acceptance and safety. This growing community fosters a sense of family and support for those who have been rejected by family and the outside world. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 19: Transgendered women (L-R) Nytina Walker looks away as Tanisha Phillips, 20, checks out her assets at Casa Ruby, an outreach center for LGBT in Washington, DC on July 19, 2016. Casa Ruby's founder, Ruby Corado started the center 12 years ago. When she was only 16, her father encouraged her to leave El Salvador and go to the U.S. She arrived in DC alone, no family, and without resources. She became a sex worker for several years and at times was homeless. She eventually evolved into an activist for LGBT with emphasis on latin transgenders. Casa Ruby now consists of four different types of housing, from emergency to boarding, and Corado says they are all filled, and 100 more names sit on a waiting list...some traveling from far and wide to be under her wing of acceptance and safety. This growing community fosters a sense of family and support for those who have been rejected by family and the outside world. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 19: Ruby Corado (seated) with LGBT clients who frequent, have been or are clients of Casa Ruby, an outreach center for LGBT in Washington, DC on July 19, 2016. Casa Ruby's founder, Ruby Corado started the center 12 years ago. When she was only 16, her father encouraged her to leave El Salvador and go to the U.S. She arrived in DC alone, no family, and without resources. She became a sex worker for several years and at times was homeless. She eventually evolved into an activist for LGBT with emphasis on latin transgenders. Casa Ruby now consists of four different types of housing, from emergency to boarding, and Corado says they are all filled, and 100 more names sit on a waiting list...some traveling from far and wide to be under her wing of acceptance and safety. This growing community fosters a sense of family and support for those who have been rejected by family and the outside world. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Washington Metropolitan Police Department Sergeant Jessica Hawkins (L), a transgender woman who leads the department's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) unit, speaks with transgender activist Ruby Corado at a home where Corado shelters transgender women of color in Washington, U.S. October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Washington Metropolitan Police Department Sergeant Jessica Hawkins (C), a transgender woman who leads the department's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) unit, speaks with transgender activist Ruby Corado (L) at a home where Corado shelters transgender women of color in Washington, U.S. October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Washington Metropolitan Police Department Sergeant Jessica Hawkins (R), a transgender woman who leads the department's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) unit, greets residents at a home where transgender activist Ruby Corado (R) shelters transgender women of color in Washington, U.S. October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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In 2003, Corado co-founded the DC Trans Coalition, an advocacy organization that became a leading force for transgender rights in Washington D.C. But her dreams were nearly shattered after a boyfriend brutally attacked and nearly killed her in 2009, she said. Traumatized, she was unable to work or pay her rent. She moved into a homeless shelter and was granted a $12,000 disability check. She decided to use the money to open the shelter she dreamed of.

"I'm like, 'This is it, I'm going to start the organization. I'm going to open a center.' And a big part of it was healing myself from a lot of pain," Corado said.

In 2012, Corado opened Casa Ruby. Originally a single-floor, drop-in center, the shelter has expanded to multiple houses that provide services and emergency housing for Washington D.C.'s LGBTQ population.

"I sat there before I opened it, and I was like, 'Dreams do come true,'" Corado said, her voice breaking.

The 40-bed shelter has housed more than 500 people over the past several years. And while Casa Ruby accepts people of all ages across the LGBTQ spectrum, a large portion of those it serves are transgender and gender-nonconforming youth of color, according to Corado.

RELATED: LGBTQ history makers

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LGBTQ history makers
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LGBTQ history makers

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) - Civil rights activist and openly gay man. He served as an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

(Photo by Patrick A. Burns/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

James Baldwin (1924 – 1987) - Civil rights activist and author from Harlem. He wrote his second novel in 1956 -- "Giovanni's Room." The work dealt explicitly with homosexuality and was published at a time when few other writers dared to publish gay-themed works, according to LGBT History Month

(Photo by Robert Elfstrom/Villon Films/Gety Images)

Alan Turing (1912-1954) - British mathematician whose work is widely acknowledged as the foundation of research in artificial intelligence.

(Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Moms Mabley (1894 – 1975) - Lesbian stand up comedian who starred in films and frequently headlined at the Apollo Theater. 

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) - A famous transgender woman and LGBT activist, Johnson was a veteran of the Stonewall Riot in New York City. She and Sylvia Rivera founded STAR: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970 to push for trans rights and offer shelter for homeless transgender teens.

(REUTERS/Diana Davies-NYPL/Handout)

Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975) - Singer, dancer and actress who became very popular in France in the 20s. She was also a civil rights activist. Baker was bisexual -- she married and divorced several men, as well as carrying on affairs with women, including Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

(Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Harvey Milk (1930-1978) - First openly gay man to be elected to public office in California when he served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

(Photo by Bettmann via Getty Images)

Alexis Arquette (1969 – 2016) - Transgender actress who transitioned to female in her 30s. She is known for her roles in films like “The Wedding Singer” and “Last Exit to Brooklyn.”

(Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)

Sally Ride (1951-2012) - America’s first woman in space waited until her death to tell the world that she was gay. The NASA astronaut’s obituary referred to “her partner of 27 years.” After Ride’s death, her sister wrote in an essay that she hopes “it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them.”

(Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)

Lesley Gore (1946 – 2015) - The famous American singer, most known for her hits “It’s My Party” and “You Don’t Own Me,” was openly gay.

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Tennessee Williams (1912-1983) - Williams was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, who wrote some of Broadway's most successful shows -- including 'A Streetcar Named Desire' and 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.' Several of his works were adapted into Oscar-winning films, starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, among other famous actors at the time. 

Williams was in a relationship with his longtime partner, Frank Merlo, for 14 years until Merlo's death in 1963. 

Matthew Shepard (1976 – 1998) - Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming when he was killed in a horrific hate crime. At the time, hate crime laws did not extend to the LGBTQ community. His death sparked a nationwide debate and ultimately led to the passing of new legislation -- the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009)

(Photo credit ANDREW CUTRARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992) - She considered herself “a black feminist lesbian mother poet.” She was also a vocal civil rights activist and leader for the advancement of the LGBT community.

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Nancy Kulp (1921 – 1991) - Lesbian actress most known for her role as Miss Jane Hathaway in the popular ‘60s sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies."

(Photo by Bettmann via Getty Images)

Rock Hudson (1925 – 1985) - The legendary actor kept his sexuality a secret at the height of his Hollywood fame in the '60s. Hudson was diagnosed with AIDS in July 1985 and revealed he was gay in a press release just months before he died in October of the same year. 

His death is credited with fueling Elizabeth Taylor's AIDS advocacy. 

Alvin Ailey (1931 – 1989) - American choreographer and LGBT activist, Ailey formed the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in New York City in 1958. His dance company welcomed and celebrated black dancers who were frequently ignored by major companies. 

American drag queen and actor Divine (1945-1988, born Harris Glenn Milstead) - Milstead, who identified as male, found mainstream success with his drag persona -- Divine. Divine's biggest hit was in 1988's 'Hairspray,' playing the role of Edna Turnbald. 

At the peak of his fame, he died of an enlarged heart. 

(Photo by Tim Boxer/Getty Images)

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"Some housing programs will kick them out if they don't come home at 10 o'clock, but I don't do that," she said. "I work with them. I understand them because they have trauma. I have trauma."

The 47-year-old said running an LGBTQ center has its challenges. In March, a man threw a brick through a window and attacked one of the center's transgender staff members — the third time in two weeks the center had been vandalized. Following the attacks, Casa Ruby received overwhelming love and support, including cards and donations from people across the country. A local gay bar raised $17,000, and an online fundraiser garnered $15,000 for the center.

"It just filled my heart," Corado said.

Corado said 110 youth are currently on Casa Ruby's waitlist. To her, it means there is a lot more work to do.

"I'm not done," she promised. "I have a big community behind me."

Ruby Corado was nominated for NBC Out's #Pride30 list by Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who called Corado a "tireless advocate and champion of equality in Washington, DC, inspiring LGBTQ people of all ages through her work and unyielding commitment to expanding opportunity for LGBTQ young people."

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