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Lions Roar : November 2018
“GANG VIOLENCE is about a lethal absence of hope,” Father Greg Boyle says. “Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.” Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that provides employ- ment opportunities for ex-gang members and the formerly incarcerated. Boyle says Homeboy is an “exit ramp off the free- way of violence, addiction, and incarceration.” The initiative began in 1988 when Boyle was a priest at a par- ish in Boyle Heights, an epicenter of gang violence in the United States during the peak of L.A.’s gang wars. Inspired to alleviate pain in his community, Boyle and members of the congrega- tion created Jobs for a Future, whose mandate was to treat gang members as human beings, helping seventy people get jobs. In 1992, amidst the political turbulence of the L.A. riots, Holly- wood producer Ray Stark heard about Boyle’s initiative and helped the group buy an abandoned bakery they called Homeboy Bakery. This enabled the foundation to expand, employing more people looking to change their lives and make honestly earned money. The bakery burned to the ground in 1999, but Homeboy rebuilt and became an independent organization in 2001 called Homeboy Industries. The group struggled through the recession but managed to stay afloat. In 2015, the nonprofit— located in a two-story office building in Chinatown—pur- chased a 6,000-square-foot building next door to better serve the community. Now, Homeboy has about 15,000 clients walk through their doors every year and over 120,000 people have taken part in its various gang intervention programs. The orga- nization has become one of the largest gang intervention, reha- bilitation, and reentry programs in the country. In order to redirect attention away from suppressing gang members and onto treatment and education, Homeboy asked a simple question: “What if we were to invest in this population rather than just endlessly incarcerate?” The organization has discovered that providing people with a deep sense of commu- nity gives them the hope and support they need to transform their pain, instead of feeding the cycle of gang violence and transmitting their pain onto others. All participants have to apply and priority is given to those with the most barriers to employment. Homeboy operates on the understanding that former gang members don’t simply need a job to redirect their lives, they also need therapeutic and sup- portive services. Many clients have experienced serious trauma, such as abandonment, addiction, and sexual or physical abuse, so Homeboy offers therapeutic and mental health resources on top of educational courses, tattoo removal, and training in vocational areas such as solar panel installation, baking, and silkscreening. These programs promote self-confidence while enabling high- risk populations to provide for themselves in safe ways. Today, Homeboy is famous for decreasing the marginaliza- tion of high-risk members of the community through their gang intervention strategies, and has helped more than forty other organizations implement similar programs around the world. “Homeboy Industries has been the tipping point to change the metaphors around gangs and how we deal with them,” Father Boyle says. ♦ Serving more than 15,000 clients a year, Homeboy Industries is one of the largest gang intervention and reentry programs in the U.S. One of its slogans is “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” There’s Hope at Homeboy For tens of thousands of former gang members, Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles has meant a life free from violence, addiction, and incarceration. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2018 35