The journey of the founding of Homeboy Industries began in 1986 when Fr. Gregory J. Boyle, SJ, was assigned to the poorest Catholic parish in the city of Los Angeles, Dolores Mission Church. It was located between two large public housing projects with the highest concentration of gang activity in Los Angeles. He quickly realized that something needed to be done to address the violence. “Once I had to bury eight kids in a three-week period,” said Fr. Boyle. “You really can’t just ignore that. So we had to figure out what we were going to do.”
In 1988, Boyle, community members, and parishioners created Jobs For A Future, which eventually became Homeboy Industries, now one of the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and reentry programs in the world. About 15,000 people walk through the doors of Homeboy Industries every year. The organization is a resource for former gang members and felons, providing them with free programs, employment opportunities, and a healing community. Fr. Boyle spoke with Catholic Digest about the ministry.
What is the mission of Homeboy Industries?
I’ve been doing this for 30 years. In the early days, it was all about finding jobs for gang members. I think what makes Homeboy different from any other comparable place is that it is about healing. An educated gang member may or may not re-offend and go back to prison. An employed gang member may or may not. But I think there is an absolute guarantee that a healed gang member won’t go back to prison. That’s our intention — it’s a therapeutic community. It’s where people heal and can come to terms. They get to the place where they can move beyond the mind they have and re-identify who they are in the world so that they can never re-offend. It is to help them be happy and joyful people.
What services does Homeboy Industries offer?
The gang members often want to be part of our job training program, which helps them find employment. Once they finish 18 months of training with us, we locate gainful employment for them beyond Homeboy Industries. We look to hire those with the most barriers to employment: youth recently released from juvenile camps and halls, adults from prison, those with visible tattoos, and those who are trying to leave their gang. There is a process to joining our program that can take several visits, but the first step is visiting our headquarters.
We also have services such as tattoo removal, therapy, and classes on anger management and parenting. We have substance abuse support, grief and loss classes, and a program called Criminals and Gang Members Anonymous. This is a program for folks who have had difficulty with gang violence. There are 120,000 gang members in Los Angeles County. I don’t think there is a single gang member who doesn’t know where we are located.
Is Homeboy Industries international?
We have started the Global Homeboy Network. We have 141 programs in the United States and 15 outside the country that are modeled after Homeboy Industries. They have different names, but we gather every August for what we call “The Gathering” of the Homeboy network. It is all connected to the Lord’s invitation to all of us to go out among the marginalized, and this is certainly the most marginalized group of people among the poor, at least in Los Angeles.
What makes Homeboy Industries so unique?
The whole place is soaked with the Gospel. It’s about living the joy of the Gospel. It’s not about talking about Jesus; it’s about seeing Jesus and being Jesus. I think it’s a more expansive view of how faith operates.
How can someone get involved?
We accept donations at our website, HomeboyIndustries.org, to help continue to provide hope, job training, and free comprehensive support services to thousands of former gang members and previously incarcerated men and women.
TO LEARN MORE:
For stories of gang member transformations, read Fr. Gregory Boyle’s book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (Free Press, 2010).