Although Homeboy Industries faces daily financial struggles, Father Gregory Boyle has always carved out time to help his homeboys and homegirls.
Even as the nonprofit — aimed at helping gang members ease out of that life for 32 years in Los Angeles — has temporarily shut down as a result of restrictions intended to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, Boyle is still making time.
“I get 100 text messages a day from homies,” the founder of the organization said Thursday. “I dedicate chunks of time each day to respond.”
Some men and women his organization serve say they want to go out and help somebody, but Boyle tells them they’ll be more helpful if they stay home. That advice feels counterintuitive to the 65-year-old, who is known for taking a proactive approach in his work.
The Boyle Heights resident had just returned from giving a talk in New York last week when his management team told him to work from home. The Chinatown headquarters of Homeboy Industries closed its doors Monday. On Thursday morning, it sent subscribers an email embedded with a video message from Boyle, notifying them of the closure and asking them to help in any way as the organization’s largest fundraiser was indefinitely postponed.
Now, Homeboy Industries faces a $1-million shortfall, plus revenue shortage from its other social enterprise businesses, according to the email.
“Like anybody, you hope it’s a pause, not a closure,” Boyle said. “And because I’m a geezer with leukemia and my immune system isn’t up to par even before we closed, they sent me home. I was here and they finally said, ‘We’re going to have to close our doors.’”
Homebody Industries is yet another institution to announce its closure, days after Los Angeles County officials followed the city in directing bars, fitness centers and movie theaters to close and restaurants to pivot to takeout only.
The organization’s tattoo removal service and cafe temporarily shut down, but its bakery and electronic recycling service are still up and running so long as there’s a need from customers. Homeboys who need to be home to take care of their children amid school closures are still getting paid, Boyle said.
“It’s tough on everybody,” he said. “These are people who have rents to pay and kids to feed. We want to stay responsible to the 300-plus folks we have at Homeboys.”
Boyle started his organization in 1988 as a program called Jobs for a Future, at the Dolores Mission parish in Boyle Heights. That later became Homeboy Industries, a company with free services and programs such as job-training sites in bakeries, recycling and a silkscreen shop, plus Homeboy merchandise with inspirational quotes.
In addition to job training, the revered L.A. priest has said healing is an important part of the process. That’s why Homeboy provides wraparound services, such as education, mental health counseling, substance-abuse support and a tattoo removal operation run by volunteer doctors and nurses. Boyle had hoped to see a further expansion of services as Homeboy moved forward with plans to build its own housing center.
Despite its decision to temporarily close its headquarters, Boyle wrote that his team will continue to provide “our many vital services” to the Homeboy family.