For over a year, Father Greg Boyle has been warning that Homeboy Industries was in financial trouble that was edging ever closer to a full blown crisis.
Thursday that long-feared crisis arrived.
On Thursday morning, Homeboy Industries employed 427 people. On Thursday afternoon, Father Greg and his senior staff had to tell 330 of those employees they had been laid off. There was simply not enough money to pay their salaries. Greg himself would not be taking any salary either.
Ever since the national financial debacle began in 2008, like many nonprofits, Homeboy’s saw its grants and donations slide drastically. At the same time, fiscal hard times caused the number of people in need of Homeboy’s services to skyrocket.
Now, frankly, $5 million is needed to keep Homeboy going. And the individual donations, miscellaneous grants, (including the $300K that the City of LA managed finally to fork over last fall, after much pressure) were simply not enough to bridge the gap.
“People are willing to raise tens of millions to save the the Hollywood sign and MOCA,” said Greg Thursday night, “and I don’t begrudge that. I love MOCA. I just wish the same level of concern was present when it comes to saving the real, live human beings who come through our doors every day at Homeboy.”
Homeboy’s businesses—the Homeboy bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen and the Homegirl Cafe—are all largely self-sustaining, so they are not at issue. Homegirl salsa is due to start arriving in Ralph’s stores and a Homegirl cafe is being seriously considered for a new section of LAX. The Learning Works Charter High School is also funded and remain open. Ditto the solar panel training program.
But the main part of services that Homeboy provides the approximately 12,000 people each year from gangs all over LA County who come for help to this largest gang intervention program in the nation, are given away free. And they cost a tidy sum to maintain.
Among its services, Homeboy offers job training and placement (and in many cases, jobs period, for those who will clearly not be hired elsewhere), plus tattoo removal, psychological services, anger management classes, and legal services that cover a range of needs, like getting a guy’s record expunged, so that he might get the job that will allow him to feed his kids, a job for which he is otherwise qualified.
Most of all, really, Homeboy provides a community that offers hope to men and women who are in desperate and painful need of hope.
It is those services, and that unique community, which Homeboy can no longer afford to maintain until and unless it can get a big cash infusion.
After the announcement in the Homeboy offices there were many tears. But there was also a universal determination among the staff—from senior members to young part-timers— to come to work anyway. The mission was too important, they said. Then there were group prayers said. And more tears. And more vows of determination to find a way through the crisis.
They would not let the hope that Homeboy represents just vanish, they said. They could not. The cost to the city—and to themselves—would be too great.
But, obviously, people cannot work for free forever. Rents and electric bills will need to be paid.
Thursday night Greg spoke at a sold out event at the Central Library. The event was centered around the release of his book, Tattoos on the Heart, and along with Greg, it featured one of his senior staffers, a wildly smart and articulate former homeboy named Louis Perez (with me moderating and interviewing). The rapt audience in the library’s theater gasped as if gut punched when Greg announced the layoffs near the event’s end.
Thursday was a day of gut punches
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I notice that Hecter Beccerra at the LA Times has a story on the layoffs that is worth reading.
UPDATE: KPPC’s Nick Roman has a story here.
And here’s the story that ABC news did Thursday night just as Greg and Louis were getting ready to come to the library.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON UPDATES: Jon Weiner has an excellent article in The Nation that I know has stimulated donations.
Greg was on Patt Morrison’s show—with the mayor. Listen here. It’s quite good—and heartbreaking. (You can play the individual segment online.)
And then read Dennis Romero’s column in the LA Weekly.
I’ve been at odds with Romero many times. But today…. GO DENNIS.
PS: One more thing: Does anybody know Oprah Winfrey? I’m serious. if she would just read Greg’s utterly wonderful book, Tattoos on the Heart, I feel sure she’d like it. Then she’d invite him on the show and the book would deservedly race up the best seller lists to become a sort of Tuesday’s With Homie. Et voila! Fiscal problems solved!
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Write Oprah and tell her that “G” needs to be on “O.” (What the heck, it worked to get Betty White on SNL, it could work here. Pass it on.)