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If L.A. Saved the Hollywood Sign, Can it Save Homeboy Industries?

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Father Gregory Boyle, right, of Homeboy Industries Speaks at Central Library with Celeste Fremon of WitnessLA and Louis Perez of Homeboy Industries at Central Library | Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist

Father Gregory Boyle, right, of Homeboy Industries Speaks at Central Library with Celeste Fremon of WitnessLA and Louis Perez of Homeboy Industries at Central Library | Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist
Homeboy Industries, the organization that works on gang intervention through jobs and social services, has taken a large hit -- about 330 of its 429 employees were laid off yesterday. Father Gregory Boyle officially announced the news last night at Central Library in an event discussing his latest book, "Tattoos on the Heart," which has been on the LA Times best seller list for the past six weeks.

"All day long, people were handing me money and sobbing," Boyle said of the lachrymose atmosphere inside the Chinatown headquarters, which is home to Homegirl Cafe, Homeboy Bakery and Homeboy Maintenance. "Everybody was hugging me and saying 'we'd work for you for free.'"

The 22-year-old organization that sees 12,000 people through its doors is based on compassion and love. Through tattoo removal, counseling and a job offer for many coming straight out of prison, Homeboy Industries has helped thousands change their lives.

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Next to Boyle on stage was Louis Perez, who works at Homeboy and at one point was facing 16 years to life in prison. A hard home life and abusive mother, Perez described how Boyle always offered "consistent love and passion," something he did not receive at home. When Perez said he'd receive Boyle's birthday note every year, he broke out in tears.

Homeboy faced financial troubles last year, but was able to temporarily make things work. "I don't know how we cobbled all the pay periods we've had since November, but our luck has sort of run out and we're waiting for somebody to rescue us right now," said Boyle noting that $5 million is needed right now. "We're going to be just fine, but we don't know how to get there."

"The question for our city is really, who are we wiling to rescue?" Boyle continued with observations about other things saved by the public, like the Hollywood Sign and local art. "We are willing to rescue the Museum of Contemporary Art -- I love MOCA -- but $30 million and $30 million matched, and we both sounded the alarm at the same time, that's a $60 million endowment. That's not city, county, state, that's people. And trust me, no animal shelter in L.A. County will ever be in danger of closing its doors, ever. And I don't begrudge that, I think that's fine, but it says as a society that a Warhol, the Hollywood Sign and a puppy are worth more than the 12,000 human beings like Louis who walk through our doors every year. That doesn't get me angry, that just gets me sad, but that's the way it is."

For the services Homeboy offers, Boyle says the county gets a bargain. "It's not like there's plan A, B, C and D--we're it," he said in terms of the post-prison opportunities he offers.

"Who would hire someone who covers their face in tattoos?" Perez asked noting a fellow Homeboy employee who is working to get his tattoos removed. As Homeboy's slogan goes, "nothing stops a bullet like a job."

"Homeboy provides a community that offers hope to men and women who are in desperate and painful need of hope," said Celeste Fremon, the Witness LA blogger and journalism teacher at USC who moderated last night's event. "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."

Homeboy, however, will stay open for now. When work ended yesterday, Boyle said everyone said one thing, knowing that no paycheck would be coming. "See you tomorrow."

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