Tough Sell, But a Good Bet

“We’re kind of a tough sell, but we’re a good bet.”

That’s the way Father Greg Boyle described Homeboy Industries, the organization he founded 26 years ago in Los Angeles, to NPR’s Arun Rath on All Things Considered Sunday. According to their website, Homeboy Industries “is the largest gang intervention program in the nation and has become a model for other organizations and cities.”

Through Homeboy Industries, where the motto is “Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” “Father G” works with15,000 former gang members each year. And, explained Rath, “his success rate is astounding. Seventy percent of people who walk through these doors don’t return to prison.”

Unfortunately, government funding that once made up 20 percent of the organization’s operating budget has been cut to just three percent.

“There’s still a lingering sense of demonizing, I suppose,” said Boyle, as he explained both the “tough sell” and “good bet” aspects of Homeboy Industries’ mission.

“It’s not a shelter for abandoned puppies—it’s a center of second chances for felons and gang members. And so, this is smart. What if we were to invest in folks rather than futilely and endlessly try to incarcerate our way out of this problem? It doesn’t make any sense.”

I winced at that “abandoned puppies” comment (from somebody affectionately known as G-Dog,* no less), but his point is well taken. And quite relevant to those of us who look out for animals in need, abandoned and otherwise. In fact, it was remarkably easy for me to imagine the second half of that last quote revised slightly:

This is smart. What if we were to invest in life-saving efforts rather than futilely and endlessly try to kill our way out of this “feral cat” problem? It doesn’t make any sense.

Another obvious parallel to the challenges faced by Homeboy Industries: a frustrating reluctance to allocate public funding, despite a winning track record. As if the alternative were more effective, or less costly. Or better served the community.

We know better. Community cat programs may still be a tough sell for some, but one community after another is learning that this is where the smart money is.

*The film of the same name, a profile of Boyle and Homeboy Industries, is a must-see.


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