Homeboy: The Biz of Reclaiming Lives


Nothing is simple.
I hear that one of our poets from the Homeboy Stories Project has been arrested. A DUI, I think. And another young man I know from Homeboy Industries, a guy who’s been to hell and back and come out the other side, has started using again. I could have sworn he was in the clear. He was so devoted to his kids. So proud of himself. But right now it seems his demons are stronger.

Yet in the eighteen years I’ve been around to watch
, at Homeboy Industries the victories have far outweighed the heartbreaks. The dark is always, always outweighed by light.

A different-than-usual take on some of Homeboy’s victories is outlined in a very nice article
in today’s New York Times—in the Business section (of all places). Here’s how it opens:

IN Los Angeles, a corporation that runs several small businesses is demonstrating that the training and discipline of working in a small company can make a big contribution to changing the lives of former gang members.

The corporation, Homeboy Industries, runs a silkscreen business,
for example, that produced revenue of $1.1 million last year from sales of custom T-shirts and other apparel for radio stations running promotions and college and private groups holding events. The business employs former gang members to make the T-shirts and uses the money to help offset the corporation’s expenses. Homeboy Silkscreen started 12 years ago in a converted warehouse under a freeway overpass near downtown Los Angeles and now has 18 employees.

Homeboy Bakery has a new plant that has $3 million in ovens and machinery and its managers hope to produce millions of dollars in revenue within a year or two, said the master baker, Alvaro Ocegueda. He supervises 25 former gang members who have become bakers under his guidance and with professional training at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, a two-year community college.

There is also a Homegirl Café, that has a staff of 27 girls
who were “gang impacted” either as auxiliary gang members or as residents of neighborhoods under gang influence. The cafe has brought in more than $220,000 in five months of serving breakfast and lunch six days a week, said Patricia Zarate, who cooks for and manages the business.

Homeboy Maintenance takes in about $6,000 a month,
and a Homeboy retail store sold $25,000 in Homeboy shirts and caps in a recent three-month period.

Though it may sound like a budding conglomerate,
Homeboy is a nonprofit charitable corporation that last year had a budget of $5 million and goals that emphasize rehabilitation over revenue.

Read the whole thing. It’s a good piece and it’s nice to see our homegrown program recognized by those east coast folks. (Especially after the loathsome little fact-free mudballs thrown by Paul White last week with Steve Lopez’ help and cooperation.)

In a tangentially-related matter, today the LA Times has an interesting Op Ed about economics and crime trends—and how to counteract the affect of a tanking economy on the crime rate.


  • Celeste, to imply that gang increases and economics is the main reason for gang increases is over simplifying the gang problem. I have too much personal experience with poverty and it’s ramification to believe this simplistic and skewed view.

    Most poor adult immigrants don’t join gangs, they will even work more than one job, it’s their kids who are forced to live and attend school with a bunch of gang members who will join the gangs.

    There is more poverty in most Latin American countries than in the U.S., I am sure you know that Los Angeles is where a special culture of gang violence was born and then exported back to other Latin American countries. Every impoverished Latin American country has crime, but many poor criminals just steal to survive (actually buy food). Most U.S. street gangs are not committing most crimes or killing to survive (buy food).

    You know sureno gangs have spread too many other parts of the country as families move from Los Angeles to escape the Los Angeles “gang culture”. But unfortunately the stupid kid in the family takes his “gang culture” with him to another part of the country. Just because you move the gangster kid to a nicer area he does not miraculously change and become a good hard working student.

    And I’m sure you know there are gangs all over California, and many gang members of L.A. gangs don’t live in the projects or L.A, and drive a new SUV with 22” chrome wheels and are; partying at nice clubs while drinking $8.00 shots of Patron Tequila.

    Most gang crimes and poverty is not such a simple direct cause and effect. Specific crimes in really impoverished times are a direct cause and effect. Even in your beloved Home-Boy industries the person who is going to succeed first has to decide he is going to change than and only than will a job at Home-Boy industries change his life.

    Even people like Al Sharpton now recognize the fact that gangs have a large cultural component.There are many reasons kids join gangs, I’m pretty sure poverty is not reason #1, 2 or 3.

  • Lost Res (I like your new moniker), I agree. I don’t for a minute think that economics are the sole reason for gang crime. Not even close. It is, as you say, one of a number of reasons and not at the top of the list.

    I simply thought the Op Ed was worth reading, and wasn’t in the mood to give it its own post. (It doesn’t relate to gang crime, but to crime in general.) Didn’t meant to mislead you about my point.

    Poor kids don’t join gangs. Poor traumatized, hopeless kids from highly dysfunctional families, usually with some major abuse and/or neglect factor involved are the ones who join gangs—if they live in high gang neighborhoods with few other opportunities, where the activity on the street looks preferable to anything going on elsewhere either at school or at home. Poor kids with strong, supportive families, with rare exceptions, don’t join gangs.

    And, as you said, as with drug addicts and alcoholics, the kid has to be ready to change or it doesn’t work. Although one of the key components is the belief that change is possible and that sometimes requires intervention.

  • O/T via TeddySanFran at FDL:

    The JFK Presidential Library and Museum announced that California Secretary of State Debra Bowen will receive its prestigious John F Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. Bowen was selected for her decision last year to de-certify electronic voting machines after a number of security flaws were discovered.

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