Education Funding

Priest’s Anti-Gang Program in Budget Crisis

By The Associated Press — August 14, 2009 4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

The Rev. Greg Boyle has walked through gunfire to quell gang violence, gotten sworn enemies to work peacefully together and redeemed hardcore criminals. But he never thought money would be the downfall of the nation’s largest anti-gang program.

After Friday, however, all bets are off at Homeboy Industries. The Roman Catholic priest’s 21-year-old effort to rehabilitate gang members by offering jobs, counseling and schooling, will run out of cash — the result of an economic recession that has ripped a $5 million hole in the nonprofit’s budget this year.

“It’s safe to say I’m losing sleep over this,” said the snowy-bearded Jesuit who won international acclaim and was chronicled in a book and documentary film. “I have 400 employees counting on me and 12,000 more who walk through our doors every year.”

In a modern building in Boyle Heights just east of downtown Los Angeles, Boyle provides help and hope in a one-stop-shop for getting lives back together.

Under his slogan “nothing stops a bullet like a job,” he hires reformed gang members in a bakery, silk screening shop, and cafe he founded to employ and train youths who crave a second chance but who are shunned by traditional employers.

He also provides classes to equip young adults for life such as driver’s education, parenting classes and high school equivalency and to help them deal with their violent pasts underscored by criminal records, drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For many former gang members, Homeboy Industries is like walking into a home they never had.

Rosa Crespin said she desperately wanted to change her life after serving two years in juvenile lockup for stealing cars and assault and after having a baby in May. She applied fruitlessly for about 200 jobs, until she entered Homeboy and was hired to do clerical work.

“People will always judge you by what you were,” said the 18-year-old whose arms and fingers are dotted with tattoos — the symbols of gang affiliation. “Here, people understand where you’re coming from. It gives you a shoulder to lean on that you can do it. People walk out changed.”

Boyle’s combination of compassion, practical skills and rules — employees are subject to random drug tests — has made his program a model for gang intervention across the country and abroad.

Homeboy is one of few agencies that have proven success with a population traditionally difficult to reach, said Beatriz Solis, director of healthy communities for The California Endowment, which recently gave Homeboy $500,000 for mental health programs and has donated to the nonprofit since 1999.

But this year Homeboy started to run into financial trouble — contributions from foundations and corporations dried up, government contracts were slashed in half, and state budget woes made collecting bills for past contracts impossible, including a $310,000 tab owed by the Division of Juvenile Justice for mentoring young parolees, said Mona Hobson, director of development.

The nonprofit, which carries a top, four-star ranking from nonprofit analyst Charity Navigator, has lost about 40 percent of its $9 million annual budget.

Boyle, who is fighting leukemia, has managed to push Homeboy from payroll to payroll the last few months — $350,000 every two weeks for salaries and bills. He’s gathered $200,000 through Web site donations, put Homeboy merchandise online to ramp up sales, frozen new hiring and extended cafe hours to serve dinner on weekends.

Hobson has reached out to foundations and corporations she hasn’t tapped before and that’s resulted in a trickle of contributions.

But Homeboy is now hitting a dead end.

Still, the priest, who earns $52,000 a year, refuses to charge for services like tattoo removal, which signals a gang member’s renunciation of his lifestyle, because he believes they won’t come if they have to pay.

Boyle said he’s looking at shutting down the nonprofit’s services, which include psychological counseling, legal aid and self-empowerment classes, and continuing to run the businesses as long as they generate enough revenue to cover operations.

Although only the silk screening shop turns a small profit, business revenue this year is expected to reach $2.2 million, up 50 percent from last year. Homegirl Cafe recently scored contracts with Ralph’s and Whole Foods supermarkets to distribute its chipotle hummus, cilantro pesto and mango salsa while the bakery churns out bread and rolls for the county’s Meals on Wheels program and baked goods for the University of Southern California.

“We long for the day when our revenue pays for our services, but we’re not there yet,” said Boyle, who affectionately calls homeboys “son” and homegirls “kiddo.”

City Hall has been trying to help, said Jeff Carr, director of the mayor’s anti-gang office.

Carr is turning over the $500,000 remainder of a federal gang-prevention grant to Homeboy and this summer gave the organization’s silk screening shop a $250,000 order for T-shirts and jerseys. He even took 25 staffers to a going-away lunch at Homegirl Cafe.

Former gang members say they despair at the thought of Homeboy closing.

Ten-year gang veteran Anthony Vieyra, who got a job at Homeboy as a receptionist after serving a year in jail for making terrorist threats, predicted many would go back to street life without Father Greg, as Boyle is called.

“People would sell drugs, any way to get money. It would be ugly,” said the 25-year-old, who now eschews the gang member look of a shaved head and baggy pants by growing his hair long and wearing fitted jeans.

Losing kids to gangs is Boyle’s biggest fear if Homeboy shuts down.

“On some level, we release the steam on the gang violence,” he said. “I can’t imagine the city without Homeboy.”

Related Tags:

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
The Social-Emotional Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on American Schoolchildren
Hear new findings from an analysis of our 300 million student survey responses along with district leaders on new trends in student SEL.
Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding The Fight Over Charter School Funding in Washington, Explained
Tensions between some Democrats in Congress and charter school backers have reached a new level over proposed restrictions on federal aid.
6 min read
Image of the Capitol.
iStock/Getty
Education Funding What the House Education Spending Bill Would Do for Schools, in One Chart
House lawmakers have advanced a funding bill for next year with big increases for several education programs, but it's far from a done deal.
3 min read
Collage of Capitol dome and school
Getty
Education Funding House Democrats Pitch 'Massive Funding Increase' in Latest Education Spending Bill
The proposal would more than double aid to Title I programs for low-income students and aims to help schools address fallout from COVID-19.
4 min read
Drawing of money dropping into a jar.
iStock/Getty
Education Funding Feds Set Limits on Which Private Schools Can Get COVID-19 Relief
The Education Department's rules deal with $2.75 billion in American Rescue Plan aid set aside for private schools.
3 min read
Image of money.
TARIK KIZILKAYA/iStock/Getty