Homeboy Industries, the legendary L.A. anti-gang institution headed by Father Greg Boyle, laid off 300 people yesterday because of a financial crisis. The organization was founded in East L.A. in 1988 at a time when hundreds of gang members were killing each other annually; Father Greg’s slogan was “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
Now former gang members have been learning to bake bread at the Homeboy Bakery for more than 20 years. The center also runs Homeboy Silkscreen and the Homegirl Café downtown. These operations all make money – but not enough to pay for the services that Homeboy offers to 12,000 people from gangs all over LA County: job placement, tattoo removal (often a prerequisite for job placement), classes in anger management (also a good idea), legal help, and psychological counseling. It’s the largest gang intervention program in the nation, and its services are free.
Most important, says Celeste Fremon, who wrote the book about Father Greg, G-Dog and the Homeboys, “Homeboy provides a community that offers hope to men and women who are in desperate and painful need of hope.”
330 people were laid off on Thursday night, including all senior staff and administrators. "We let people know so they could apply for unemployment, which I’m going to do as well," Father Greg told the L.A. Times. The only employees not laid off were those who work in the money-making businesses, including the bakery and the café.
The problem is with fundraising, always crucial to Homeboy. "If these were puppies or little kids, we wouldn’t be in this trouble," Father Greg told the LA Times . "But they’re tattooed gang members with records. So I think a lot of people love this place, but not the folks who can write the big checks, the ‘Save the Hollywood sign’ check."
Father Greg Boyle is a legendary figure in L.A. – a Jesuit who had been pastor of Dolores Mission, long a beacon of hope for L.A.’s poorest immigrants from Latin America. I interviewed him on the radio Wednesday. He has just published Tattoos on the Heart, a wonderful book about Homeboy. He was modest and charismatic, as usual, talking about how Homeboy is not for gangsters who need help, it’s for gangsters who want help. “If their mothers bring them in, or their probation officers, that doesn’t work,” he said. “They have to walk through the doors themselves. We say ‘if you want to, you’ll be able to. We’ll be ready.’”
Now all that is in doubt, unless Homeboy can raise money quickly–Father Greg says they need $5 million to get back to work.