Homeboy Industries gets $1.3-million county contract

Los Angeles County supervisorsTuesday awarded Homeboy Industries a $1.3-million contract, providing critically needed funding for the gang intervention program founded two decades ago by Father Gregory Boyle.

Earlier this year, crushing financial problems forced Homeboy officials to lay off most employees. The organization, which uses jobs to draw young people away from gangs, had seen a steep decline in charitable contributions since the economic downturn even as demand for its programs soared.

The county contract will make it possible for Homeboy to hire 20 job trainees and provide employment counseling, tattoo removal, mental health, legal and other services for 665 people. It

targets probationers and other individuals ages 14 to 30 considered at risk of incarceration.

William T Fujioka, the county’s chief executive, recommended approval of the contract, which will be paid for through already budgeted funds.

“Programs like this one help these kids and young adults redirect their lives in compelling ways, benefiting us all,” said Assistant Chief Executive Officer Ryan Alsop.

Supervisors approved the contract in a 3-0 vote, with Gloria Molina, Don Knabe and Zev Yaroslavsky voting yes; Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael D. Antonovich were absent. Homeboy officials will be required to report quarterly to the board on their progress.

Ridley-Thomas, who had to leave before the vote, described Homeboy as “a premier organization that has distinguished itself by helping literally thousands of young men and women turn their lives around,” many of them in his district.

“An entity that has a national reputation for doing good ought to be aided at its time of need,” he said. “The county is better for it.”

Boyle, whose work is also supported by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, said about 85% of the 12,000 current and former gang members who turn to Homeboy for help each year are on probation or parole.

“The county never asked us to be their re-entry program, but I don’t think anyone can deny that’s what we are doing,” Boyle said. “So we are really grateful to have the county acknowledge as much through this commitment.... It’s an enormous help.”

Boyle said he was also heartened by support from Los Angeles and its residents. Since Homeboy laid off more than 300 employees in May, he said, the organization has received donations totaling $3.5 million. About 100 people are back on the payroll. Others have stayed on as volunteers.

“The people who reside here really embraced it as their own,” Boyle said.

He cautioned, however, that the county contract would provide only funding until the end of June.

Homeboy Industries operates a cafe, bakery, maintenance, silk-screening and other businesses that generate about $3.5 million a year, Boyle said. But the organization needs to raise an additional $6 million a year to cover its operating costs.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said.