Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Good News

Back in May, I posted on the severe financial problems the gang intervention program known as Homeboy Industries faced. The program, run by Father Gregory Boyle, had run out of money and had just laid off all of its paid staff. Well, the program got a big boost yesterday from the Los Angeles Country Board of Supervisors.

Los Angeles County supervisors Tuesday 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.

The contract, which is based on money already allocated in the County Budget, only runs through June because funding for any kind of social services is dicey for the new budget, given the state's problems, but it certainly gives new life to one of the most successful projects of its kind in the country. Thousands of probationers and at-risk kids have gone to Homeboy Industries and found ways to turn their lives around.

Father Gregory's formula is a simple one: get these young people jobs, and the programs focuses on ways to accomplish that. Some of them go to work at Homeboy Bakery or Homegirl Cafe. Some of them get training and tips and are matched with local companies. They get their gang tattoos removed, they get taught how to fill out employment applications, they even learn how to dress for an interview.

For those worried about taxpayers' money going to a religious organization, relax. Homeboy industries may have been founded by a Roman Catholic priest, but there are no religious requirements to get the services offered or to work on the project's staff. Father Gregory's "occupation" is coincidental.

What we should be worried about is that Father Gregory and his staff have been doing the County's job with respect to providing a smoother re-entry for the kids who have gotten into trouble. The probation department, for all sorts of reasons, hasn't been able to cope with parolees and probationers, much less kids who are at risk for becoming parolees and probationers down the line. It's about time the County paid for the services Homeboy Industries has been providing in its place.

Homeboy Industries isn't out of the woods yet, but it's close to getting back on its feet. For that, we should all be grateful, especially those of us who live in Los Angeles.



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