Homeboy Industries

California / July 17, 2012 / by The Team

"Any place in the country or the world where you have violence among young people is a place where you have despair... it's about a lethal absence of hope."

Father Gregory Boyle sits in his office at the headquarters of Homeboy Industries, of which he is Founder and Executive Director, and speaks about his 25-year experience of building the organization. 

Homeboy Industries grew from Boyle’s work as the pastor of one of the poorest parishes in the Los Angeles area. He explains that the “highest concentration of gang activity in the whole world was my parish,” and he wanted to do something that would help those people in dire situations. 

Joseph Holguin, a former gang member who now works at Homeboy Industries, says that when he met Boyle, "I was about 10 years old and I was a gang member, into drugs, selling drugs, using drugs."

The effect that Boyle had on that neighborhood, as well as on Holguin, was extremely powerful. “He popped up there at the Dolores Mission, which was a church in my neighborhood and he just came out, riding on his bike. He became like a father to a lot of us, [something] that was sort of lost in the neighborhood,” says Holguin. 

Boyle explains that “the main obstacle in the first ten years was the wholesale demonizing of this population, that folks did not see these folks as human beings.” So he created Homeboy Industries as a way of helping those people whose lives had become ensnared by gang culture. 

When it started, “it was a school first, and then a jobs programs and then a business,” says Boyle. It continued to evolve and it is now “the largest gang intervention rehab and re-entry program in the country.”

The list of services Homeboy Industries now offers is staggering. From anger management and parenting skills to mental health assistance and job training, Homeboy Industries provides all the support that someone at any stage of transitioning out of gang or prison life would need. 

It is not just gang members who can benefit from Homeboy Industries, however. “Our main thing is, of course, gang members trying to turn their lives around but anybody can walk through our doors and get the help that they need here,” says Holguin.

Among other services, they also have a charter school, a Homegirl café, Homeboy merchandise, Homeboy silkscreen and embroidery, a Homeboy diner at City hall, a weekly Farmer’s market, and a bakery. They even produce their own tortilla chips and salsa, which they sell in Ralphs stores across California.

Holguin explains that “we like to think of Homeboy Industries as a gang rehab. We have people who are at different levels of recovery - you might have some guys that are totally changed over, some guys are still in the process of making that change.” 

And the variety of programs they provide reflects that desire to support people in every way they can. Each person who comes to Homeboy Industries for help is assigned a case manager who is there to “do anything from drive somebody to a court appearance, to help them choose classes, and basically anything in between that.”

They understand that each case is different and as such, each person needs a tailored program. For those who come in search of job training, they are able to get jobs in one of the many businesses run by Homeboy Industries. 

“Everybody who comes to Homeboy Industries is basically in training and then some of them become managers, supervisors,” says Holguin. The training programs last 18 months and allows the trainee to gain skills that are then invaluable to them in finding another job. 

While some trainees do go on to work as managers in Homeboy Industries itself, most go on to find jobs elsewhere, with the help of the job placement team. 

Another of the very important services offered by Homeboy Industries is tattoo removal, of which they perform about 800 a month. While this is usually a very expensive treatment, Homeboy offers it for free, thanks to their team of 27 volunteers and support from donations and grants. 

Dr Troy Clarke who performs the tattoo removals explains that “most of the people that come here to HomeBoy Industries are people that want to move forward with their lives. So tattoos are primarily prominent reminders of the past and they want to move forward with their lives so we try to help them do that.”

They focus on removing tattoos on the neck, face, head, wrists and hands - those that are visible and most likely to cause problems when the patient is applying for jobs or to get into the military. 

While the treatment can be painful and sometimes takes multiple sessions to remove one tattoo, it is very worthwhile. “We’re not just affecting the individual who’s removing the tattoo, but we’re affecting their children, the next generation, their family, because they’re going to be able to have more responsibility, have a job,” says Clarke. 

Homeboy Industries provides everything someone could need to get themselves back to being able to believe in themselves and their future. No one is a better example of what they can do for people than Holguin. 

“I come from a place where I was living in darkness,” he says. “I could see as far as my street sign and I would have died for what I saw on that street sign. But coming to Homeboy Industries, I have a new view on life, it’s a different outlook.” 

Now, he is in the position to help others who were in situations just like his. 

“That’s the best thing about my job, is to see somebody bloom like a flower right before my eyes. And that’s when people start recognizing that life has other things to offer rather than just being out there in the streets and corrupting yourself.”

Father Gregory does not talk about pride in the work he’s done nor does he see it as an organization that has succeeded. There are always more people to help and to do so, more money and awareness to be raised. He is hopeful, however, that the vital work Homeboy Industries does every day will continue for many, many years.

“That’s always the ongoing hope here, you know, is that you’re always announcing a message loud and clear about redemption and second chances, and kinship above all.”

To learn more about Homeboy Industries, you can visit their website, their Twitter feed, or their Facebook page.