It was Father Gregory Boyle's first invitation to address the Los Angeles Police Commission, and he had something to get off his chest.
For a quarter of a century, Boyle has steered boys and girls, and men and women, out of the gang life through Homeboy Industries, which offers job training, counseling, tattoo removal and more. The model Boyle built has been replicated around the country and abroad.
Here in Los Angeles, some 120,000 gang members have voluntarily asked Father Boyle for help starting over. They struggle daily against the socioeconomic forces that drew them into gang life. But Homeboy itself confronts another daily struggle.
Making ends meet.
FOR THE RECORD:
Homeboy Industries: A column in the Jan. 26 Section A said that Homeboy Industries had a $1-million budget deficit that might necessitate 60 more layoffs this year. Though the organization did lose $1 million in government funding, it also cut expenditures to close the gap and does not anticipate client/trainee layoffs. —
"Our government funding has gone in the last three years from 20% of our annual $14-million budget to 3%," Boyle told the police commissioners.
And then he had this pithy observation:
"I suspect if we were a shelter for abandoned puppies we'd be endowed by now. But we're a place of second chances for gang members and felons. It's a tough sell, but a good bet."
Boyle has been making that bet for 30 years, never excusing the violence, but also trying to understand where it comes from. He told the commission he lives by two rules of refusal:
"Refuse to demonize a single gang member, and refuse to romanticize a single gang."
Steve Soboroff, the commission chairman who invited Boyle to speak, told me he did so for a specific purpose. Crime rates are down, and Soboroff considers gang intervention a key part of the reason. Earl Paysinger, an LAPD assistant chief, said he shudders to think what shape the city would be in without Homeboy.
"I'm heartened that in 2012, gang-related crime has been reduced by 18% and gang-related homicide by nearly 10%," Boyle told the commission. "And I think Homeboy has had an impact on that."
But Boyle didn't hide his frustration, arguing that Homeboy's services save the public millions of dollars in reduced violence and incarceration.
"We shouldn't be struggling this much. God love the Museum of Contemporary Art, which can raise $100 million in 10 months to endow itself," he said. "They were so successful they moved the goal posts to $150 million, and we're just trying to keep our heads above water."
Warhols and puppies, Boyle shrugged. "Go figure."
I had reached out to Boyle because I'd heard that both he and Homeboy were having health problems. It turns out that Boyle is OK after the latest round of treatment for his chronic leukemia, and he told me he's not even thinking about slowing down.
"Jesuits retire in the graveyard," he said.
But yes, he conceded, Homeboy could use some vitamins.