Homeboy Industries Jobs Save Gang Members From The Streets With Baking And Solar Panels

Homeboy Industries didn’t bring down the number of gang-related homicides by half, and then half again since 1992, but founder Father Gregory Boyle says that even Los Angeles police would acknowledge that it played a substantial role, he once told NPR.

“I always talk about the decade of death, which is 1988 to 1998. That was intense — reaching the highest moment in ’92 when the county saw 1,000 gang-related homicides… I buried eight kids in a three-week period once. And that would be inconceivable now. Things have calmed down considerably since the horror of that decade of death. But it was so common in those days. Helicopters every night; shootings morning, noon and night; and mothers putting their babies in the bathtubs at night in the housing projects, anticipating what everybody knew would happen, which is shooting all night long.”

Since then, Homeboy Industries has helped thousands of young men and women get out of lives of crime in Los Angeles by providing a variety of services. Those entering the program have access to psychiatric and medical care, as well as necessary resume-building activities to secure jobs — getting gang tattoos removed among them.

Homeboy Bakery and Homegirl Café serve as the culinary arm of that venture. Workers churn out everything from jalapeño sweet corn bread to vegan walnut brownies in order to train for other positions in the food industry once they complete the program.

The Homebody Industries bakery has even teamed up with casual French bistro Bouchon for an internship program. Javier Medina, 39, whose nickname is “Malo,” told VICE News that only a consuming desire to truly get away from the gang lifestyle was able to save him.

“You have to be willing and wanting to change, or else [the program] won’t work for you… I got tired of the gang life, the same routines, running the streets… [My former gang] tried to get me at rehab and in front of my family, but once they realized I’m just as strong as them, they leave me alone. I stay away from my old hood now.”

Arlan Crane, Director of Food and Beverage of Homeboy Industries, told VICE that the program helps former gang members to find grounding and independence.

“They realize that ‘if I’m successful, that many more women or men can walk through that door and become successful, too.’ Mariana Enriquez, a sous chef and single mom, started mopping floors here nine years ago, and now runs the kitchen. She’s a great mentor because she’s uplifting, but she also doesn’t allow them to be victims, either. We always say, ‘Just get here, come in to work,’ then once you’re here there’s a family feeling—a ride or die mentality.”

Outside of baking, Homeboy Industries also offers training for photovoltaic installation — the technical term for solar-panels. Since 2008, 80 students a year have had the opportunity to build their skills in the field. Homeboy students also pass the test well above the national average. Afterward, installers can make anywhere from $15 to $30 an hour, depending on experience level.

Alberto Ortega, 39, told Wall Street Journal that he had made the decision to get his training after getting out of prison at age 38.

“I wanted a new way of life. Solar puts me on the cutting edge.”

Homeboy Industries jobs are one of several reasons that Los Angeles has experienced such a steep drop in crime. While the rest of the nation saw a fall of 16 percent from 2008 to 2012, heavy gang areas in LA. showed drops of up to 50 percent. Homicides in L.A. have fallen 66.7 percent in the last decade, reported Pacific Standard.

[Image via Marco di Lauro and David McNew/Getty Images]