Who’ll help Homeboy?
Father Gregory Boyle, the Jesuit priest who has heroically labored for more than 20 years on behalf of the young men and women Los Angeles would most like to forget, likes to say that “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
In fact, that’s the slogan of Homeboy Industries, the phenomenally successful gang intervention program he created. Actually, Homeboy -- now a nondenominational nonprofit service, headquartered near Union Station just north of downtown -- is more of a community than it is a program, and it currently involves 8,000 young men and women who formerly belonged to about 700 gangs across Los Angeles County. The majority of them come from Latino families, but many are black or Asian. They work in its highly successful bakery and cafe, or in landscaping, solar power and other industries; they get counseling of every useful sort; and, if they choose, they even have their gang tattoos removed. The program helps them find jobs in private industries savvy enough to understand the sanity of Boyle’s insistence that a second chance is the least we can extend to young men and women who never got a first one.
Homeboy is one of this too-often-heedless city’s unambiguous municipal treasures -- and it’s in trouble. We need to do something about that, and we need to do it now. The problem is simple: The economic catastrophe rolling across our country has dramatically pushed up demand for the kind of help only Homeboy provides. Despite the numbers of young men and women the community employs, and despite the others it has placed with private employers, its lobby is crowded with new applicants every morning. At the same time, the government and the private sources of funding on which Homeboy relies for most of its budget are cutting back as a consequence of the same downturn.
Here are the hard numbers: The community has an annual budget of $9.8 million. Its businesses, particularly the bakery and cafe, make $2.5 million a year. That’s an extraordinary sum, and the high-quality bakery promises more revenue -- and, more important, more jobs -- as more discerning institutional clients avail themselves of its products. That leaves $7.3 million to be made up from other sources.
Twenty-five percent of that money was supposed to have come from government sources, but now Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes to eliminate entirely the paltry $400,000 that Sacramento contributes to Homeboy; Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s vaunted gang-reduction program had promised to contribute $29,000 a month -- bupkis, given the dimensions of the social problem -- but nothing has arrived in three months, and it’s not clear when anything will. In the meantime, some private foundations that had pledged to support Homeboy’s work are either not meeting their commitments or unilaterally reducing them.
Homeboy finds itself having to impose the first hiring freeze in its history -- something that cuts against the whole community’s ethos, which is to be open and available to all in need -- and is confronting a shortfall of $1.2 million.
If this country can bail out insurance and financial-services companies, why shouldn’t someone bail out Homeboy? L.A.'s most privileged residents need to step up and do what’s needed. The wealthy people of this city -- whatever their recent reversals -- are in a position to help Homeboy right now. Perhaps we could even get a few of the city’s biggest billionaires together at Ron Burkle’s place to have a few drinks and watch the fights Saturday night. Afterward, we probably could shake the cushions on the sofa and collect enough loose change to cover Homeboy’s shortfall.
Here’s the point: We all need to step up and assist Homeboy Industries because it’s the right thing to do, and those who have more to give need to do it now. The rest of us can make contributions by going to the website -- www.homeboy-industries.org -- or by sending checks to 130 W. Bruno St., Los Angeles, 90012.
As Boyle said this week, “We’re located in the heart of the city, but we represent this city’s heart -- a belief that everybody deserves a second chance and a faith that redemption is always possible.”
These are hard times for everybody, but what price can a city put on its heart?