Thirty years ago, when Father Greg Boyle was a pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, he became troubled by the prevalence of gang violence in his Los Angeles neighborhood. It had the highest concentration of gang activity anywhere in the city, and he had few resources with which to respond: Boyle’s parish was the poorest in L.A.
Boyle believed his neighbors trapped in a cycle of violence needed help that would let them integrate successfully into society. So in 1988 he founded Homeboy Industries to provide former gang members with support and counseling, career training, drug rehab, and other services—even tattoo removal. Today, not even a pandemic can stop Homeboy Industries from serving. During the covid-19 outbreak, Boyle has been working out of a tent in a parking lot.
Since its start in L.A., Homeboy Industries has become an international effort, with locations in more than 30 states and 20 countries. According to its website, Homeboy is “the largest gang intervention, rehab and reentry program in the world.” Some 300 former gang members are being helped by Homeboy at any time.
For those in need of employment, Homeboy even hires some of them itself. The nonprofit runs enterprises like Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Cafe , and various online stores that bring in some $5 million in annual revenue while at the same time offering struggling young people their first step onto the economic ladder. The remaining $8 million needed to operate Homeboy Industries every year is gathered through fundraising.
One recent grant will help. This month, Homebody received the $2.5-million Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Humanitarian Award, becoming one of few U.S.-based organizations to win the world’s largest annual humanitarian award, which has previously gone to groups like Doctors Without Borders and the Task Force for Global Health. The prize is awarded to “nonprofit organizations judged to have made extraordinary contributions toward alleviating human suffering.”
The award, Boyle said, “strengthens our resolve to create a community of kinship and healing.” Peter Laugharn of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation called Homeboy “a tremendous example of ground-breaking humanitarian work right here in Los Angeles.” A photograph accompanying the announcement illustrates just how life-changing Homeboy’s work can be. Two men smile while one wraps his arm around the other. “We used to be worst enemies on the streets,” reads the caption, “and now we’re family at Homeboys.”