Homeboy Industries, LA County partner for at-risk youth program

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Los Angeles County supervisors today approved spending $1.3 million on a program to help at-risk youths and young adults.

County officials will work with Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit, gang intervention program founded and run by Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest.

The effort will involve "tattoo removal, job development, and re-entry services (for) high-risk, high-need probationers and at-risk individuals between the ages of 14 (and) 30,'' said William Fujioka, the county's chief executive officer.

Program participants will work on a detailed educational and vocational plan with Homeboy staffers. They will also have access to job placement and legal services, as well as classes, job training and therapy, including mental health and substance abuse counseling. Some will even be given money to help buy clothes for job interviews or buy bus tokens to get to and from those meetings.

The county monies will help fund salaries for nonprofit staff and 20 trainees will be hired specifically to assist with the pilot program.

Homeboy Industries laid off 300 employees in May, telling the Los Angeles Times that public funds were shifting toward anti-gang programs designed to curb violence among existing gang members. Private funding was also down, at least in part due to the recession.

Boyle himself stopped taking a check, according to the Times. Volunteers continued to provide services and about 100 staffers have been hired back based on $3.5 million in donations received over the last three months, the newspaper reported today.

"Our doors and hearts remain open,'' reads an update on the nonprofit's website.

Homeboy Industries will be required to report back to the county in several ways, including a quarterly report to the board, while the 10-month program is underway. Researchers from UCLA will also evaluate the pilot's effectiveness in helping participants break gang ties and contribute to their

The seed for Homeboy Industries was planted 20 years ago, when Boyle created "Jobs for a Future.'' Hoping to provide an alternative to gangs, Boyle and others established an elementary school, a day care program and resources to help young people find legitimate work.

Homeboy was established as a nonprofit in 2001. In addition to the jobs and counseling programs, the organization has established a series of small businesses staffed with program participants, including the Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Cafe and Homeboy Merchandise, which sells T-shirts, mugs, tote bags and mouse pads with the nonprofit's logo.

Boyle serves on the advisory boards for the Loyola Law School Center for Juvenile Law and Policy and the National Gang Center and was a member of the California State Commission on Juvenile Justice, Crime and Delinquency Prevention.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 in support of the funding. Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas, a vocal supporter of the nonprofit, were absent.

KPCC's Brian Watt contributed audio to this report.