Haus of Codec, founded by Providence artist Julio Berroa, has provided emergency housing to homeless LGBTQ+ youth since 2020.
Originally founded in 2017 as a design firm for Providence artists, Haus of Codec pivoted to its current role as an emergency shelter for LGBTQ+ youth during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Gem, the director of department at Haus of Codec.
Gem learned about the lack of LGBTQ+ youth shelters while working in nonprofits over the last decade. “The thing I’ve heard across the board is: ‘There is no youth shelter … there is no shelter specifically for queer people,’” they said.
Both Berroa and Gem’s personal experiences convinced them to organize a shelter for LGBTQ+ youth.
“Both of us … were homeless after we came out to our parents,” Berroa said. “To us, this (issue) felt too close to home. We needed to do something about it, (and) that’s what led to what Haus of Codec is right now.”
Since their decision to pivot to providing shelter for LGBTQ+ youth, Haus of Codec has been furnished using donations from volunteers, community members and businesses. A furniture outlet donated five of the shelter’s beds, and donors regularly contribute between $1 and $1,000, according to Gem.
The organization receives a large portion of its donations at its monthly LGBTQ+ marketplaces, where visitors can exchange donations for pride flags and where LGBTQ+ Providence-based artists can sell their works.
Now, the organization has “six beds and two emergency cots” available for LGBTQ+ youth seeking emergency housing, according to Operations Director Alexander Ruiz. But the demand for emergency housing continues to exceed the shelter’s capacity.
“In the short time that (the shelter) has been open, there’s (already) a long waiting list,” Yosefa Kornwitz, the first volunteer to join the organization, said. “There’s a desperate need to have housing for people in Providence … especially youth.”
While donations continue to sustain the organization, most government funding is incompatible with the organization’s focus on housing LGBTQ+ youth.
“If you accept any federal or state money, you are required to take anybody who is in emergency need in the (Homeless Management Information System) on a first-come, first-serve basis,” Gem said. “That really takes away from our focus. We’re trying to interject ourselves into young folks’ lives early so that they’re not faced with chronic homelessness for years to come.”
When working at the shelter, helping residents feel safe “is sewn into our fabric,” Ruiz said. “So many of these kids come from situations where there’s trauma, where they’ve been told, ‘What you are is bad.’”
“When you step (into the shelter), it feels like you’re entering a very welcoming and warm space,” Kornwitz added. “The other day … Julio and Gem brought their pet turtles. There’s a really cozy environment — what other shelter has turtles?”
Moving forward, Berroa envisions expanding the Haus of Codec to multiple locations.
“I see our shelter spreading across the city, with multiple different houses and … a very big network of our shelter system in the next ten years,” Berroa said. “That's a need that we know is immediate that we need to address.”