Providing support for and re-training at-risk or formerly gang affiliated youth is definitely a public health issue. Current figures show recidivism among youthful offenders is extremely high: 2/3 will be re-arrested and up to 1/3 of youthful offenders are re-incarcerated within a few years after their initial release.
Homeboy Industries serves at-risk and gang involved youth with a continuum of services and programs designed to meet their multiple needs. In addition to education and job training, Homeboy Industries also provides services like tattoo removal and counseling support. Adam Gelb, a public-safety specialist at the Pew Center on the States says; “the math on these sorts of initiatives is simple – a day in prison costs $79 on average; a day on probation costs $3.42.” In the Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2010, Gelb commented that; “State can substantially beef up supervision in the community and do it at a fraction of the cost of a prison cell.”
Started in 1992 by Father Greg Boyle, the Homeboy Industries program is intended to assist high-risk youth, former gang members and the recently incarcerated with a variety of free programs including; mental health counseling, legal services, tattoo removal, curriculum and education classes, work-readiness training, and job skills. The program sponsors several social enterprises/small businesses which gives hard-to-place individuals an opportunity for employment in transitional jobs in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn both concrete and soft job skills. Current businesses include: the Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Café’ & Catering, Homeboy Farmers Markets, Homeboy/Girl Merchandise, the Homeboy Diner at City Hall, Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery, Homeboy Grocery, and the soon-to-open Homeboy Café & Bakery in the American Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.
In October 2007, Homeboy Industries opened a new $8.5 million headquarters at the Fran and Ray Stark building, in a gang-neutral downtown location. Part of Homeboy Industries is the Dolores Mission Alternative School. First created to offer high school drop outs a chance for a diploma, in 2010, it changed its name to Learning Works where it began with 75 students. In 2012, enrollment was 105+.
Homeboy Industries currently employs between 200-235 high-risk, formerly gang-involved, or recently incarcerated youth in its social enterprises and headquarters. Homeboy offers training in yoga, anger management, parenting, substance abuse, budgeting, art, and other areas of self-development. They also offer free mental health counseling, legal services, case management, job development, and tattoo removal. Its services are utilized by more than 10,000 community members a year.
One of the most successful programs is the free tattoo removal. Young people who find that tattoos inhibit their ability to secure employment can receive free treatments on site at Homeboy’s center in downtown Los Angeles, CA. Though tattoo removal by laser is known to be painful and often takes an average of 8-10 treatments per tattoo to complete; patient retention is virtually 100%. The Homeboy clinic completes about 560 treatments each month.
In 2007, a documentary called Father G. and the Homeboys was released. It has recently made an initial foray into the mainstream market with Homeboy Industries salsa being sold and distributed at Ralph’s supermarket. In 2011, Father Boyle was inducted into the California Hall of Fame. While, at times, Homeboy Industries has received criticism from Los Angeles law enforcement officials for glorifying gang life and harboring criminals. That has been countered with widespread support from notable L.A. officials such as County Sheriff, Lee Baca; APD Chief, Charlie beck; Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa; and even former First Lady, Laura Bush.