Reacting to this week's news that gang-prevention group Homeboy Industries had to lay off 330 of 427 employees, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told Patt Morrison on her KPCC (89.3) radio show Friday that he was “saddened” and “concerned.”
Homeboy founder Father Gregory Boyle, who says 12,000 gang members have sought help from the nonprofit, says $5 million is needed in order for the group to survive. Villaraigosa, entangled in a bitter budget battle at City Hall Friday, offered no financial help and noted that the city gave Homeboy $500,000 last year.
The mayor has quite a pot of money, however, earmarked for his Gang Reduction and Youth Development program: an estimated $26 million a year. He recently established a city run Los Angeles Gang Intervention Training Academy (at a cost of $200,000), created a “gang czar” to watch that money, and just Friday fought against proposed cuts to the gang reduction cash, which resides under his office.
“Some might argue that an eight percent or a $1.33 million dollar cut to our gang programs is not significant, but eight percent means 296 young people and their families will not receive services,” Villaraigosa stated Friday. “And eight percent means we will lose intervention workers who have built trusting relationships within our communities, relationships that are sometimes the sole reason why we are able to stop violence. These relationships take time. They do not happen over night. And if we lose these intervention workers, we lose some of our best weapons in our fight against gang violence.”
The city has had a spotty track record with gang reduction efforts — some leaders who benefited from city money have been accused of crimes — and the number of lives that might have been spared from gang life has been hard to quantify. The mayor's “Summer Night Lights” program to keep recreation centers open for youths has been widely praised. But, overall, it has been hard to gauge what the city has reaped, besides more bureaucracy, from that cash.
There is, however, one surefire success in gang prevention: Boyle's independent Homeboy Industries. The group essentially gives jobs to gang members and ex-prisoners who want to leave “the life.” The organization is especially important as the state has been ordered by a federal judge to release more than one-forth of its prison population as a result of overcrowding. Those felons will be back in the neighborhoods, looking for something to do. It's a problem even Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has acknowledged as a top priority for the city. You know one place they can go? Homeboy Industries.
Now, if we were in the mayor's position, and we had $26 million in gang-intervention funds at our disposal, giving $5 million of it to Boyle would be a no-brainer. Let's deputize Homeboy Industries as an official arm of the city's gang-intervention efforts. Gang czar? Boyle's held that job for 20 years.