In the late ’80s, the seeds of what has grown into Homeboy Industries were planted when a program called “Jobs for the Future” was created. Its goal was to stem the tide of gang-related violence that was threatening to drown Los Angeles. Decades later, Homeboy Industries is widely recognized as one of the largest gang intervention and rehabilitation programs in the world. Here’s how the faith of one man helped change thousands of lives.
In 1988, a Jesuit pastor named Gregory Boyle started a program called “Jobs for a Future.”
The program operated out of Dolores Mission Parish in Boyle Heights, a working-class, mostly Mexican-American neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles. The program’s main goal was to provide high-risk youth with an alternative to gang life.
At the time, Los Angeles was embarking on the “decade of death.”
Father Boyle refers to the period of 1988-1998 as the “decade of death” in Los Angeles because of the intensity of gang violence that was engulfing the city. In 1992 alone, there were 1,000 gang-related homicides in Los Angeles county. Boyle Heights was hit particularly hard because, according to NPR, it had the “highest concentration of gang activity in the entire city.”
Early on, the belief was, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
Father Boyle and other concerned community members asked the question, “Can we improve the health and safety of our community through jobs and education rather than through suppression and incarceration?” They found that the answer was yes. Why? According to Boyle, a job “gives the gang member a reason to get up in the morning and a reason not to gangbang the night before.”
So, in 1992, a social enterprise called Homeboy Bakery was created.
After the L.A. riots, Homeboy Bakery was started in an effort to help former enemies work side by side while learning to bake, which would give them a marketable skill for life. The money for this “social enterprise” came from Hollywood producer Ray Spark, who donated the funds to turn an old, empty warehouse into a bakery.
“Wait, WTF is a social enterprise?”
According to the Homeboy Industries FAQ section, “social enterprises are businesses that apply commercial strategies to improve the well-being of individuals rather than creating enterprises for profit.” To put that in other words: It’s about helping people grow, instead of making someone rich.
In 2001, “Jobs for the Future” expanded and became Homeboy Industries.
Homeboy Industries now boasts multiple social enterprises, including their bakery, a cafe, silkscreening and embroidery services, catering, and retail selling of clothing, food and Homeboy Industries swag. They were able to grow by sheer hustle and ganas. The money to support all the enterprises comes from donations, fundraising, government funding and money made from the enterprises themselves.
But it turns out that to break the cycle of violence, you need more than a job.
Father Boyle now admits that while giving a gang member a job helps with about 80 percent of the issue, the other 20 percent needs to be handled with therapy and support services. He says it’s a better way to help the population “transform pain” so as not to transmit it anymore.
Because it’s about more than just jobs, Homeboy Industries has become a one-stop-shop.
For those looking for a way out of gang life, Homeboy Industries’ services go far beyond employment opportunities, and also include case management, tattoo removal, mental health services, substance abuse counseling and education.
In a world where nothing is free, all the services at Homeboy Industries cost nothing. But they’re a huge investment.
No one who joins the program is charged any money, and the men and women who receive job training are paid. The services are paid for with money from donations, government funding and the organization’s social enterprises.
How does it all work? Hope.
Father Boyle — or G-Dog, as he’s affectionately called — believes that gang membership comes about because of “a lethal absence of hope in young people” and a lack of other options and opportunities. Now there is hope because Homeboy Industries offers a way out with opportunities for a different kind of life.
Perhaps you’ve seen one of their alums, Richard Cabral, on TV or in movies.
Cabral was involved in gang activity from a young age and almost spent his life in jail after shooting a man, but he decided he was ready to change. Homeboy Industries helped him morph into an actor, and he eventually earned an Emmy nomination for his work on the ABC series “American Crime.” Can you believe that sh*t?
And, yes, Homeboy Industries really is making a difference.
Since 2005, there has been a 55.3 percent decline in gang-related crimes and a 66.7 percent decline in gang-related homicides. Of course, Homeboy Industries can’t take all the credit for that, but they have certainly contributed toward the reduction of gang-related violence in general.
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