Story Updates

  • Follow the Gang Money - Part 3 Coming Soon!

    Part 3 of the “Follow the Gang Money” investigative series
    that is a joint project of WitnessLA and Spot.Us, will appear here Tuesday morning.

    (Part One and Part Two, reported and written by Matthew Fleischer, appeared earlier this year.)

    Today, Monday, however, I’ll be previewing and discussing Part 3 on KPFK’s Deadline LA with hosts Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume.

    The show airs today live at 2:30 p.m.on 90.7 FM

    (NOTE: DeadlineLA has recently moved from Friday to its new Monday afternoon slot.)

    Part 1 and Part 2 were critical examinations of how the city of Los Angeles spends its $26 million per year in gang violence reduction dollars.

    Part 3 surveys a series of experts in order to offer suggestions as to how LA’s gang existing program—GRYD— might expand, change and evolve in 2011.

    So tune in live.

    Or listen to the podcast here.


    Due to circumstances—
    rain, minor floods, unruly puppies and other forces majeure—beyond my control (like, for example, the need to finish final grading for USC by 5 p.m. today) Follow the Gang Money Part 3, will be out by noon. late tonight.

    Photo of The Great & Pesky Topanga Fallen Rock of 2005 by Damian Dovargenes/AP

    Posted by Spot. Us on 12/21/10
  • 9/10/10
  • Follow the Gang Money: Okay....Where Do We Go From Here?


    Now that Parts 1 and 2 of The LA Justice Report's Follow the Gang Money series have been completed, we are beginning work on a 3rd part, in which will look at where we go from here.

    Specifically, we will put forth recommendations for strengthening what the city is doing best with its gang violence reduction programs, and as well as suggestions for new directions where we believe they are merited.

    The recommendations will come, not just from us, but from various kinds of experts around the city---from academics to members of the communities most affected by gang violence.

    We don't pretend that we will magically find all the right answers (obviously) and the city may not want to take any of the advice we offer.

    But we know they are reading the series. So in good faith we will will present the best of what we find.

    Gang violence is, after all, a shared problem: we are all in this together.

    The story below is about a shooting incident that occurred on Thursday of this week (9/9/2010). It is heartbreaking tale that includes both sorrow and hope embedded in it.

    It's posted here because the story also makes clear the complexity of the gang problem in Los Angeles---and the urgency of addressing it in the best ways that we possibly can.

    NOTE: You'll also see that we're raising more money to help us pay for Part 3. So do whatever you can.


    Thursday night, it was quieter around the Rampart police station than it has been the rest of this week. Although plenty of officers were again brought in from elsewhere in the city just in case the sometimes violent demonstrations of the past three nights reignited, on night four, those on the street protesting Sunday’s shooting death of Manuel Jamines by an LAPD officer were a comparatively tame group.

    Yet much earlier on Thursday, another tragic drama around another local shooting began to unfolding in that same Rampart area. This new and tragic incident involved a 19-year-old, El Salvadoran-born man named Irvin Panameno.

    Irvin Panameno, whose nickname was Smiley, joined a gang when he was 13-years-old. For the next three years, by his own admission, he was decidedly up to no good. Then for the last two years, he had been gradually trying to set his life right.

    The turning point, he told those who inquired, occurred during the 18 months he spent at one of LA County’s probation camps, Camp David Gonzales, the place considered by many to be the jewel in the county’s deeply troubled probation system.

    Irvin worked as a cook at Gonzales, where he was mentored by the camp’s head cook, a large, kind man named Dennis. Learning a skill made Irvin feel better about himself, he said, made him feel he was worth something. Camp also made him feel secure and, when his time at Gonzales was nearly up, he confided in some of the women counselors that he didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to go back to the old life, he said.

    It was at Gonzales that he heard about Homeboy Industries, that it was a place that would provide help for somebody like him who was ready to make a change. As his release day approached, he held on to that thought like a beacon.

    After leaving camp, Irvin showed up at the Homeboy offices at Alameda and Bruno, and waited for as long as it took until he could see Father Greg Boyle personally in order to ask him for a job. The priest agreed to put him on the building’s maintenance crew.

    Right from the beginning, Irvin became known as the guy who showed up at the offices earlier than was required, and was nearly the last person out of the building. “He was around all the time. I mean ALL the time,” said one of the staff members.

    But that wasn’t a criticism. People appreciated his enthusiasm and, within a short time, Irvin was a favorite at Homeboy. For one thing, he had smile that unfolded frequently and seemed devoid of pretense. He also had habit of reaching beyond his prescribed duties to help others–like the time after one senior staff member returned to work following major surgery. Irvin made a point of watching for her to arrive in every morning, so he could help her out of her car and into the office.

    And he seemed to be trying to better himself. He enrolled in the continuation school that operated on the premises and happily wrote in his Facebook page that he was part of the class of 2011.

    UCLA researcher Jorja Leap got to know Irvin when she added him to the list of newly hired former gang members she was tracking as part of her 5-year long evaluation of the Homeboy program. After nearly a year of following Irvin’s progress, she became cautiously convinced that he was one of those she would be able to count as a success story. “He was this sweet, joyful soul,” she said. “People called him Smiley around the office. And he lived up to his nickname.”

    Novelist Leslie Schwartz, who runs the Homeboy writing program, was also taken with the kid. She talked with him at length this past Wednesday, after he had asked to join her class, telling her that, when he was locked up, he’d discovered that he loved to write poetry and he wanted to get better so he could one day publish his stuff “in a real magazine.”

    “He was a real sweetheart,” Leslie said. But he said that it has been a hard year because his cousin got killed, then his brother—i think it was— was badly beaten.” In spite of it all, Leslie found him upbeat about the future. “He was excited about life.”

    She told Irvin he could join her class the following Wednesday.

    But it was not to be.

    At 7:30 Thursday morning, Irvin had left his house to catch the bus that took him to work every weekday, and was walking along Rampart Blvd. between 3rd and 4th streets, when he was approached by someone. Perhaps it was several someones. In any case, somebody came up on him, then pulled out a gun and shot Irvin three times rapidly—BAM, BAM, BAM—once in the cheek, once in the back, once in the neck. Then the shooter vanished.

    The cheek bullet did not enter Irvin’s brain tissue, as it might have, but his injuries were such that, in the intervening minutes between the shooting and the arrival of the paramedics, his brain was deprived of oxygen. It was unclear for how long, and whether the interval was lengthy enough to cause irreparable damage.

    At Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center—more commonly known as County General— Irvin was rushed to surgery where the doctors were able to repair the damage that was causing him to bleed internally. Then the worst was confirmed. It was now nearly certain that his brain function was too minimal to sustain life and thought.

    Staff from both Homeboy and Camp Gonzales streamed to the hospital when they got word of the shooting. Dennis the camp cook arrived, as did Father Greg, of course. Everyone did their best to comfort Irvin’s shell-shocked family.

    By late Thursday afternoon, word came back to the Homeboy offices that it was just a matter of time before Irvin would be removed from life support. The fact that many on staff had been through this kind of sudden loss and grief on multiple terrible occasions did nothing to ease the loss now.

    Also during the afternoon, Homeboy’s in-house attorney, Elie Miller, contacted the Rampart police station to find out if Irvin’s mother could pick up her son’s possessions–his wallet and his cell phone—that cops had taken from the scene in order to examine them. Yes, that would be fine, the officer she reached informed her. But the mother should not come at night because she might not be able to get in, “because of the protests,” he said.

    Also, although the detectives at the Rampart Division had eliminated robbery as a motive, they were not yet saying whether the shooting was gang related.

    The Homeboy staffers did not need to ask the question. They had no doubt that the shooting was gang related. They just didn’t know the why of it. Had Irvin backslid in some unknown way? Or did something in his past catch up with him? Or did someone simply go looking for a member of his old gang then, locating him, decide that he would do.

    One thing, however, that everyone said they knew for sure was the fact that Irvin Panameno had changed his life —and that at Homeboy he was loved. (People kept using those words, “He was loved.”)

    What no one said—what they didn’t have to say— is that sometimes, no matter how fast change has occurred, it isn’t fast enough to keep one safe.


    CODA: Just before I finished writing this post, I glanced again at Irvin’s Facebook page and noted that his last few status updates were filled with a determined sort of optimism:

    For example, on Saturday, September 4, he wrote: Living LIFE ALL DAY…

    Then on Monday, September 6, he wrote: Livin life to da fullest never look back at da mistakes gettin my shyt together….

    After that, all the messages were only from others—full of love and prayers and sorrow.

    UPDATE: No one at Homeboy wants to give up on Irvin, at least not while one shred of possibility for a good outcome remains. At this morning’s meeting, which all of the staff generally attends every day before the office opens, Father Greg announced that Irvin had made it through the night, thus had lived 24 hours, and that this was a good sign—such as it was. With his words, Greg was careful not to raise unrealistic expectations, but nor did he want to squash hope.

    After the medical update, Greg shifted the focus of his message. Those who had gathered listened intently, their expressions both controlled and stricken:

    “One of homies to me [yesterday], ‘No bullet can erase who he was for us.’” said Greg. “And it certainly can’t erase who he discovered himself to be in this place. ….

    “That’s the thing that was mostly communicated to me yesterday.” he said, then fiddled with his iPhone for a moment to find something, and then read from the screen.

    “Another homeboy texted me and said,
    ‘It hurts, pops. We were rivals on the streets. But Homeboy Industries made us brothers at the end. I got to know him real good. And I hate this bullshit.’”

    Greg looked up from the phone, gazed around the room, and turned the angle of the message he was delivering yet again.

    “Exactly right. No bullet can take from him who he was for for us.…and who he will continue to be for us, no matter what happens….”



    Posted by Witness LA on 09/10/10
  • 9/8/10
  • Follow the Gang Money, Part 2: The Interventionists


    The following story has received recognition from LA Weekly, LA Times/LA Now, Media Bistro and LA Observed.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: With 1,076 known gangs and 80,757 gang members in Los Angeles County (according to the Office of the Sheriff) LA is still the gang capital of the nation. To address the gang violence problem that has tens of thousands of our city’s children reporting that they are scared on their walk to school, Los Angeles has budgeted $26 million.

    So is our city using that pot of taxpayer dollars well? Are the programs it buys making our violence-haunted communities safer? Are they effective in helping kids-on-the-edge stay out of gangs? Do they offer tools and alternatives to those desperately seeking a route out of gang life?

    These are some of the questions we asked with our two-part investigation: Follow the Gang Money, reported and written by Matt Fleischer (and copy edited by Craig Gaines).

    Follow the Gang Money is the first effort to come out of the LA Justice Report, which was created through a partnership between WLA and Spot.Us.

    In the course of his investigation, reporter Matt Fleischer found bright spots, to be sure. But mostly he found a city gang program mired in secrecy, plagued by bureaucratic bungling, and often driven by political concerns. He also found it lacking in the kind of accountability that was repeatedly promised when all of LA’s gang dollars were transferred from the city council to the mayor’s office.

    In Part 1, Matt looked at the city’s flawed gang prevention program and why it was systematically excluding many of LA’s kids who most needed its services.

    Now he looks at the rest of the story with his exploration of the city’s gang intervention program.

    Many at city hall are fond of touting LA’s gang intervention strategy as being a violence prevention model for the nation.

    The facts tell a different story.

    You’ll find the details in Part 2 of Follow the Gang Money.


    Is the city pouring its gang dollars into a strategy that won’t work?

    by Matthew Fleischer

    Jose Leon remembers the first time he saw a shootout in the streets of his Boyle Heights neighborhood. “I was 5 years old and staying at my uncle’s place. I looked out the window and saw this guy running down the middle of the street, shooting. I got scared.”

    A squat, powerful man with a shaved head, tattoos peeking out of his sleeves and eyes that read much older than his 21 years, Jose’s life in Boyle Heights got, if anything, more traumatic as the years passed until it read like a blueprint for gang membership by the time he was an adolescent.

    “I had aunts and uncles who used to slang [sell drugs]. They were from the old neighborhood—Soto Street.”

    As Jose got older, the shootings in his neighborhood became a routine part of his day, and fear of street life turned to fascination. He joined a tagging crew when he was 11 and joined a full-fledged street gang shortly thereafter. He was stabbed at age 14 when a rival crew ambushed him at Roosevelt High School.

    “I got stuck in the stomach,” he says. “Spent a few days in the hospital.”

    When Jose graduated from Roosevelt in 2006, he thought about getting out of gang life. But he was unsure how to replace the camaraderie and the income, frankly, that the gang world provided. He tried to find a job, but with no luck: By that time, Jose had a criminal record and no one wanted to take the risk in hiring him.

    So he continued to sell drugs to get by when things were lean.

    Then, two years ago, Jose saw a road out when he began working with Johnny Godines, a local gang intervention worker with the East LA nonprofit Soledad Enrichment Action (SEA). Jose had met Godines back in high school. He was an old-timer who had turned his life around and was now helping kids in the schools and on the streets. Godines knew the game, knew all Jose was going through, and had kept an eye out for him. But more importantly, he was a friend and mentor who constantly reminded Jose there were better things in life than what gangs had to offer.

    “Johnny and me had some really good conversations. He said things that made me start thinking about me.”

    Nearly eight months ago, thanks to his relationship with Godines, Jose landed a job in SEA’s human resources department. Now he works 8:30 to 5 to support his infant son and says he has no desire to return to gang life. By all accounts, Jose’s is a true gang-intervention success story—the kind that the city would seemingly want to see replicated with other troubled youth across the city.

    But even though SEA is the largest organization within the Gang Reduction and Youth Development network (it runs one-third of the GRYD’s 12 neighborhood zones) stories like Jose’s are rare within the city-run program. Therapy, education, tattoo removal, and especially job training and placement—the kinds of things that are essential in helping gang members to leave the life for good—are not the priorities of the roughly $7 million intervention side of the $26 million program. (GRYD also has a prevention component [see Part 1 of this series].) Instead, the city’s intervention focus is on something called “proactive peacemaking,” otherwise known as hardcore street intervention.

    GRYD’s intervention model is based on Chicago’s “CeaseFire” program, and it works like this: Local men and women–often former gang members who still have clout on the streets–are assigned to the GRYD neighborhood zone they are most familiar with, and instructed to sniff out threats of retributive violence between gang members and to try to broker truces between rival gangs. Intervention workers serve as both liaisons between gangs—a reliable means of transmitting messages between rivals—and information sources for the Los Angeles Police Department, with whom they have weekly meetings and are supposed to contact if a violent showdown seems imminent.

    GRYD has codified this method of intervention by investing $200,000 per year in the Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy (LAVITA), which is attempting to train and professionalize street intervention workers and standardize their approach in the field.

    “Our mission is not to break up a gang,” says Susan Lee, the Advancement Project’s director of urban peace, who oversees LAVITA. “Our mission is to reduce violence. We are about peacemaking.”

    Advancement Project co-director and civil rights attorney Connie Rice explains the mission in more detail: “Hardcore police suppression has not reduced gang influence in our city. Gangs saturate the physical spaces of our neighborhoods: parks, schools, hospitals. We’ve let this problem get to the point where we need people with the street credibility to negotiate with gangs. Police can’t do it. Academics can’t do it. Politicians can’t do it. I can’t do it. These guys can.”

    LAPD agrees, and though initially skeptical of street interventionists, they have come around to viewing these men and women as a useful component of violence reduction. “Without question we call on these guys,” says Northeast LAPD Captain Bill Murphy. “It’s my experience they know what’s going on and they provide options for how to deal with various situations. You can’t just arrest your way out of a problem.”

    But while the idea of training former gang members to roam their old stomping grounds and talk their homies into forgoing violence has an undeniable narrative sexiness, and the backing of the LAPD, it’s an open question whether this strategy actually has a measurable impact. There is much evidence to suggest that, absent other services and active community involvement, “proactive peacemaking” produces no long-term effect, and in certain instances can even make things worse. In a 2010 RAND study of Pittsburgh’s GRYD-like street intervention program, RAND researcher Jeremy Wilson theorizes “that the presence of outreach workers increased the cohesion of gangs, making some groups more organized, in turn leading to increased violence.”

    The real $26 million question facing Los Angeles is why are we basing a gang-reduction strategy on a model that has no proven long-term results?


    On a hot, muggy day in mid-May, Father Greg Boyle enters the front door of Homeboy Industries in downtown Los Angeles to find several hundred current and former gang members staring him in the face.

    “Happy birthday,” the entire room yells in unison before launching into song—once in English and once in Spanish.

    Boyle professes surprise, but the secret birthday party has become an annual rite of spring at Homeboy Industries, America’s largest gang-intervention program. Boyle’s efforts have helped thousands of kids escape gang life and have earned him a national reputation. This year, however, while cake is passed around and conversation flows, there’s somber reality lying just beneath the surface of the celebratory mood. Virtually all of its more than 427 employees have just been laid off, and the future of the program is in serious doubt. News of Homeboy’s financial troubles have gone national—yet the program is nowhere near to raising the $5 million it needs to continue to run its programs. Its fate, and the fate of all those celebrating, is a giant question mark.

    The potential catastrophic cuts in Homeboy’s services come at an especially crucial time since, with unemployment still in double digits, former gang members needing jobs are coming to them for help in greater numbers than ever. Homeboy, as well as organizations like the Toberman Neighborhood Center in San Pedro, practice a different type of intervention from the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development network—a services-based model that focuses on turning gang members into productive members of society instead of the tourniquet approach of asking gang members not to shoot at each other.

    “We don’t deal with gangs, we deal with gang members,” says Boyle.

    The logic behind the approach is similar to the CIA’s refusal to negotiate with terrorist organizations—although Boyle certainly wouldn’t put it in those terms. Instead of dealing with the gangs themselves, Homeboy serves gang members, plus men and women freshly out of prison and on parole, who want to turn their lives around. There are tens of thousands in each category, 12,000 of whom walk through the doors of Homeboy Industries every year looking to reinvent their lives.

    Homeboy Industries offers various types of job training and placement programs. Its solar panel installation training program in partnership with East L.A. Skills Center has a long waiting list. Homeboy also has its own businesses, which employ 150 to 200 former gang members: Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery, Homeboy Merchandise, Homeboy Maintenance and the Homegirl Café. In addition, the program offers tattoo removal, GED prep, computer training, substance abuse counseling, legal advice, reentry services for parolees and juvenile probationers, comprehensive mental health and family counseling.

    In other words, Homeboy Industries offers the basic services that a gang member most needs to send his or her life in a productive direction.

    Boyle admits he is not a big fan of the hardcore street intervention method. Before developing Homeboy, Boyle says he practiced street intervention for nearly a decade, brokering truces, racing late at night between warring gangs to calm violent situations, chasing down individual kids who he knew were at risk of shooting. But by the mid-1990s he concluded that it was not an effective strategy. He also says sending in former gang members to do street intervention keeps them bound to the gang milieu.

    “You wouldn’t send a recovering alcoholic into a bar to recruit for AA,” says Boyle. “It’s the same principle here. People have to want to leave this life behind.”

    But is there evidence that the services-based model works any better?

    As it turns out, there is. Homeboy Industries reports a 70 percent retention rate, which is quite high given that 30 percent is considered good among program evaluators. (Alcoholics Anonymous has a 10 percent retention rate.)“And out of the 30 percent who drop out [of the Homeboy programs],” says Mona Hobson, Homeboy’s director of development, 10 percent to 15 percent return “when they’re ready to embrace the program.”

    Homeboy’s individual programs show similarly upbeat results. For instance, Liz Miller of the University of California, Davis, studied 502 clients of Homeboy’s Mental Health Education and Treatment Assistance Service, and found a dive in “depressive symptoms” from 64 percent to 26 percent during a three-month period.

    Now Homeboy is being evaluated even more rigorously. UCLA researchers are two years into a five-year longitudinal study of the program’s effectiveness. The research regarding Homeboy’s success in transforming its clients’ mental and behavioral health isn’t final, but lead researcher Jorja Leap, an adjunct associate professor at UCLA’s Department of Social Welfare, says: “Homeboy is off the chart at stemming the tide of reincarceration. Simply in terms of cost effectiveness, services at Homeboy cost about $40,000 per person per year. It costs upward of $120,000 a year to put a person through the criminal justice system. And the preliminary evaluation outcomes [at Homeboy] are remarkable.”

    Homeboy isn’t the only model in Los Angeles that has shown proven results. Leap also spent two years evaluating the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute (PCITI), run by longtime interventionist Aquil Basheer, who’s been doing this type of work since 1969, and found promising results. Basheer’s training methods yielded a 95 percent retention rate.

    Interestingly, unlike Homeboy, Basheer’s model incorporates hardcore street intervention into its services-based approach. “I applaud the city and anyone out there trying to save lives,” says Basheer. “But if gang intervention is an octopus, hardcore street intervention is just one tentacle.”


    More important, he says, is community intervention. “If we’re not empowering, and putting systems in place for communities to provide for themselves, then we aren’t accomplishing anything. We want to put systems in place where we can eventually pull back from a community and have them take care of things on their own.”

    PCITI has a job development program, it runs food drives, and it organizes community crisis centers where residents can speak to one another and get updates about neighborhood violence.

    Connie Rice agrees that such strategies are critical to solving the gang problem in Los Angeles. But, she argues, there aren’t enough resources for their widespread implementation. Instead, building the intervention infrastructure to save lives and stem the tide of violence is the natural place to begin.

    “There are 1,000 gangs in this city. You can’t develop these exit-ramp type programs in a war zone. The first stage of a wrap-around strategy is suppression. The real question is why aren’t we talking about a $100 million program. Why are we spending as much on an alligator enclosure at the zoo as we are on gang intervention?”

    But Basheer argues that money is less of an issue than priorities: “I’d estimate we have about an eighth of the resources of your average GRYD provider and we’re able to get the job done.”


    The need for job training and more service-based intervention within the Gang Reduction and Youth Development network isn’t a secret among the city’s street-intervention providers. City Controller Wendy Greuel’s June audit of GRYD mentioned providers openly complaining about not having the resources to provide reentry services to those recently released from California prisons. But that’s not all. During an interview with Soledad Enrichment Action’s intervention director, Tony Zepeda, Johnny Godines comes in the room, unaware a reporter is present. (Godines is the intervention worker who helped turn around Jose Leon’s life.) He says to Zepeda loudly, “We need to get more job training programs started.”

    Asked to expand on his statement, Godines says, “If you give a kid a job, he’ll take it instead of selling dope.”

    Other experienced interventionists in the GRYD network say the same thing. Leon Gallet, director of the Community Build intervention program in the Baldwin Village GRYD zone, says job development is absolutely critical to ending gang violence. Gang members have to support themselves somehow. But a job is only part of the service-based work that needs to be done.

    “There’s a lot of work to be done to get these guys ready for a job,” he says. “You can’t just bring them in off the street and put them in a 9-to-5.”

    Gallet explained that gang members often need to be reintroduced to standard social norms like showing up on time, not cursing at work, dressing properly, calling in when they’re sick, and not solving work conflicts with threats and fists. Many need anger-management and conflict-resolution skills, he says, so they don’t snap at co-workers during stressful times.

    They also frequently need help with a place of residence. “A lot of gang members are homeless,” adds Gallet. “They’re not counted as homeless because they bounce between family and other gang members. But the lack of home is what often keeps these guys in the life.”

    All of the above is what a services-based program attempts to provide, and GRYD makes a gesture in that direction. Community Build has enrolled 54 gang-affiliated men and women for “case management.” But other than weekly “life skills” classes and some limited mental health and family counseling, the two GRYD-paid case managers mostly refer clients to whatever county agencies might be appropriate or to other, non-GRYD-funded organizations, like Homeboy Industries, which provide the services the city has not deemed a priority.

    “I could get the crime stats down with more resources,” Gallet says. “There’s about six guys in every neighborhood that cause most of the trouble. You work on two or three of them, get them enrolled in services and the violence starts to go down.”

    Gallet doesn’t discount the notion of street intervention. It’s a valuable recruiting tool for the services, he argues. And Gallet says GRYD is making progress in coming around to services-based intervention. Under GRYD’s direction, Community Build has added mental health counseling to its repertoire of intervention services.

    But when asked about the Homeboy service model and job development efforts, Gallet says, “We’d love to have something like that down here.”


    These philosophical arguments about the merits of hardcore street intervention
    versus a services-based approach would be less important if there were hard evidence that Gang Reduction and Youth Development’s street philosophy was measurably changing the health and well being of the communities it serves. Unfortunately, as with the prevention side of GRYD, such evaluations, while repeatedly promised, have not materialized despite the $525,000 spent so far on assessments. Moreover, as with GRYD’s prevention programs, a perplexing level of bureaucratic bungling torpedoed what evaluation might have taken place.

    According to Terry Dunworth, the lead GRYD researcher at the Urban Institute (UI), virtually all the statistics gathered by intervention providers on their gang clients—information on the volume and frequency of services provided, as well as on the growth and setbacks of clients and their families—lacked informed consent, meaning the gang members who received GRYD intervention services did not sign off on allowing a third party like the UI to study information compiled about them. Informed consent is federally mandated for studies like the kind UI was hired to implement, says Dunworth. Despite the fact that GRYD spent nearly $120,000 for intervention data collection last year—in addition to the money spent on the UI study—the Urban Institute is legally unable to evaluate this information, rendering it worthless. “The UI board wouldn’t allow us to review this information even if we wanted to,” Dunworth explains.

    The reasons for the lack of informed consent are many. Intervention providers have refused to ask gang members to sign off on allowing outsiders to view their information because they fear the request could break the hard-earned trust they have built in the streets. Gang members want help, the argument goes, they don’t want to be studied—a concern Dunworth views as legitimate.

    Leap acknowledges these issue are very tricky. It took nearly nine months to resolve the issue of informed consent in her study of Homeboy Industries. But Leap and others insist it can be done.

    “In my experience,” Leap says, “some gang members don’t want to be tape recorded. But other than that, I’ve had no problems in recruiting gang members to participate in research studies.”

    Leap mentions a three-year evaluation she’s conducting on the Weingart Foundation-funded Street Ambassador intervention program serving South Los Angeles, run by the Unity Collaborative. “The Unity Collaborative does a tremendous job. If the providers don’t turn over their data on a monthly basis,” she says, “they don’t get their check. I have never had a problem collecting data from them.”

    Last spring, an intervention task force that included the UI, GRYD and various intervention providers was assembled to resolve the data-collecting issue—but the group disbanded after just one meeting, and has yet to be reconstituted.

    “[Participating in a task force] wasn’t in the providers’ contracts,” says GRYD Director Guillermo Cespedes. “We recognized the problem, and a working group will be put together in the new contract year.”

    In the meantime, the plan is to gauge GRYD’s intervention efforts primarily on crime stats in the GRYD zones. But even this analysis has not been completed, because the LAPD only recently turned over its detailed crimes statistics to the Urban Institute—stats that break down crime trends on a block-by-block basis and account for things like increased police deployment in certain neighborhoods. Without these variables accounted for, it’s impossible to tell whether drops in crime are attributable to gang intervention or increased police presence in certain neighborhoods, or if they are simply in keeping with larger state and national crime trends.

    And even so, explains Leap, crime stats tell only part of the story. They don’t show how many gang members have left the life, like Jose, or whether middle school kids feel safer on their way to school.

    “Crime stats alone have no validity in measuring community health,” says Leap. “They are a black-and-white photograph, instead of a 3-D movie.”

    A similar principle arguably holds true for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s popular Summer Night Lights program, which he routinely likes to boast has single-handedly dropped crime in GRYD zones by double-digit percentages—although no such direct correlation has been proven. Furthermore, as wonderful as it is to open up neighborhood parks for extended hours and to add a list of new activities during those hours to keep kids busy and off the street, Summer Night Lights only exists for six weeks in the summer—hardly what one could call a comprehensive gang program for a complex metropolis the size of Los Angeles.

    Cespedes counters that Summer Night Lights isn’t simply a device to keep potential gang members busy, it’s a recruiting tool. “We have intervention and prevention workers at these events, speaking to community and getting to know gang members.”

    But, again, recruiting for what? If the city doesn’t make wrap-around services available, what are young men and women being recruited to? The idea of services-based intervention is to provide an alternative to the street. Without such programs, especially in today’s jobless economy, where are those recruited supposed to go? What does the city hope they will do?


    While Los Angeles hasn’t yet worked out a methodology to evaluate its own intervention approach, a string of studies of other urban gang programs in Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh suggest that LA—the nation’s gang capital—may not be on the right track.

    As mentioned earlier, a RAND study of Pittsburgh’s street intervention program, based on a model similar to GRYD, revealed the program to be ineffective. (Crime actually went up in the intervention zones.)

    An audit of Chicago’s CeaseFire program by the state of Illinois showed that gang violence dropped just as much, if not more, in zones that didn’t receive hardcore street intervention.

    In smaller pilot programs elsewhere in the country, where street intervention is combined with other, more comprehensive services, plus active community involvement, the results are more promising.

    But that’s not what GRYD is doing.

    So then why is the city putting nearly all of its gang-intervention dollars into a model that, over the long term, has repeatedly been shown to be ineffective when it is not accompanied by services that provide positive alternatives?

    “Quantifying this kind of work isn’t easy,” says GRYD Director Cespedes. “How do you compile a statistic for a violent incident that was averted? We’re still struggling to figure that out. But I’m out on the streets every day, and I see this program working to defuse tensions and save lives. I don’t see how anyone can argue with us trying to stop people from being killed.”

    Yes, of course. And if you have a wildfire you need to send in the smoke jumpers. But they can’t do it by themselves. Without a broad network of support, it’s only a matter of time before the fire spreads beyond their control.

    Posted by Spot. Us on 09/08/10
  • 8/16/10
  • Follow the Gang Money - Part 1


    By Mathew Fleischer

    EDITOR’S NOTE: The article below is Part One of WitnessLA’s two-part investigation into how the city of Los Angeles spends its $26 million per year in gang violence reduction dollars.

    This investigation was reported and written by Matt Fleischer (and copy edited by Craig Gaines). It is the first effort to come out of the LA Justice Report, which was created through a partnership between WLA and Spot.Us.

    It has received recognition from the LA Times, LAist, LA Weekly, MediaFishBowl and LA Observed.

    You’ll find that both sections of this series are quite critical of multiple aspects the gang programs that have operated under the umbrella of the mayor’s office for the past two years—and with good reason. We went to great lengths to get documents and information that the mayor’s people made clear they did not want us to have. Much of what Matt found at the conclusion of his digging and reporting is, we believe, cause for concern–and rigorous rethinking.

    However, just to be clear: our criticism does not suggest for a minute that the $26 million in gang dollars is not worth spending. All that money and more is needed to address the fact that hundreds of thousands of LA kids feel unsafe walking to school because of gang violence. But it is essential—particularly in these budget strapped times—that those much-needed funds are spent in ways that are measurably effective in addressing the problems for which they were allocated.

    To that end, we give you Part One of Follow the Gang Money. We’ll have Part Two in a couple of weeks.

    Then in September, we’ll have a wrap-up that looks at where we go from here.


    Are LA’s Gang Prevention Strategies Excluding the Kids Who Most Need Our Help?
    by Matthew Fleischer

    On a hot day in early May, nearly 200 gang-reduction experts
    under the umbrella of the city of Los Angeles’ Gang Reduction and Youth Development program, or GRYD, gathered in the LA City Council chambers to fight for their jobs. There were too many intervention workers, some of them former gang members with extravagant tattoos and shaved heads, to cram into the rows of seats in the City Council chambers, so they spilled into the hallways instead, greeting each other fondly and chatting nervously about their fates. With the city facing a $212 million budget shortfall, the City Council was looking to do some serious fiscal trimming, and GRYD’s $26 million in operating funds were slated for the shears.

    As the council meeting came to order and the public comment period began, these men and women stepped to the microphone at the center front of the chambers and told stories of bullets whizzing, children dying and the great risks they took in their daily lives to keep their communities safe. In between their testimonies, a sprinkling of tweedy academic types from the administrative ranks of these same gang-reduction programs came forward to bolster the street workers’ pleas with facts and figures.

    No money should be slashed from GRYD, each of them said, in one impassioned way or another. Despite its budget woes, this is one program cut Los Angeles cannot afford.

    “We’re saving lives,” was the common refrain.

    Last to speak, and most eloquent, was civil rights attorney and gang intervention expert Connie Rice, whose 2007 Advancement Project report, “A Call to Action,” was part of what triggered the formation of GRYD in the first place. More recently, Rice and her Advancement Project have been tapped to run the city’s Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy (LAVITA)—which is attempting to train and professionalize gang intervention workers. “We are celebrating low crime, but in the hot zones, kids still dodge bullets,” said Rice. “These [gang workers] are the people who keep the kids safe. The GRYD office is absolutely essential. We just spent $7 million for a reptile enclosure. I’m happy for Reggie [the alligator], but we need to save our kids first.”

    Although some of the city council members fully intended to snip GRYD’s funds, Rice made her pitch with the knowledge that the program enjoys the unequivocal backing of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Ever since his school reform efforts sputtered and stalled, Villaraigosa has taken to GRYD as his new flagship policy effort. He routinely touts it as “among the most innovative in the U.S.,” and has the habit of making lofty claims about GRYD’s impact: “The program has reclaimed our city for our citizens.”

    Within days of the City Council hearing, the mayor, Connie Rice and the rest of the GRYD network got their way: GRYD would receive full funding for another year, which in 2009-10 amounted to $26 million, $18.5 million of which came directly from LA’s general fund. In the following weeks, virtually every other program in the city would be cut amid LA’s budget crunch—the library system, city attorney’s office and even the LAPD’s counterterrorism task force among them. GRYD was among the few allowed to remain intact.

    It was a major political victory for Villaraigosa and Gang Reduction and Youth Development.

    The mayor reacted to the news with a celebratory tweet: “Our GRYD programs WORK—gang crime is way down and more kids have a way out of the gang life.”

    A two-month investigation by the LA Justice Report, however, has revealed that the mayor and the City Council’s confidence in GRYD’s central programs isn’t grounded in quantifiable facts. In truth, no one knows if, how well or how poorly GRYD is working—not the mayor, not the police, not GRYD itself.

    Power and accountability have been consolidated in the mayor’s office, but there is still no way of determining whether the program is effective. And there are many indications that methodological errors have been made that have cost—and continue to cost—the city millions of dollars.

    A recent audit by LA City Controller Wendy Greuel stated that, after nearly two years, GRYD, much like LA Bridges, still has no adequate evaluation of its effectiveness, or lack thereof—despite the city’s spending $525,000 (with another $375,000 soon to be paid out) for an assessment report from the Urban Institute (UI).

    “We had years of a feel-good program under LA Bridges,” Greuel says. “Now we’ve spent more than $500,000 on a tool to see what’s working, but we still don’t have that yet.

    “Transparency is the biggest problem we face.”

    But while Greuel placed most of the blame on the irritatingly secretive assessment conducted by the UI, the Justice Report found the real failings to be not with the UI researchers’ evaluation of the GRYD programs, but with the programs themselves. Though it took weeks and multiple California Public Records Act requests, we acquired a copy of the UI’s 60-page evaluation and found it most revealing. After speaking with the UI head evaluator and two independent evaluation experts, we have learned that UI had a perfectly acceptable methodology in place. GRYD, however, has been hampered by serious bureaucratic blunders, prime among them poorly negotiated contracts that resulted in the loss of a year of data.

    But beyond pure evaluation and data-collection screw-ups—of which there have been plenty—the Justice Report discovered gang prevention programs that may be systematically excluding many of the kids that most need their help and intervention programs that are based on a model that has little or no proven success. Further, the programs may fail to emphasize the most basic services that have been shown to help the men and women in LA’s most violent, troubled neighborhoods leave gang life behind.

    As with many city and county problems, the situation is complex, so bear with us. Policy analysis can be wonky at times. But this is no academic exercise. LA is the gang capital of America, and the stakes of the gang-reduction debate are measured in blood.


    So what is Gang Reduction and Youth Development, and how does it work?

    GRYD was born in 2008 after an audit by then City Controller Laura Chick, who, along with Rice’s Advancement Project report, pointed out that GRYD’s predecessor, LA Bridges, was a bureaucratic mess in which money was doled out to politically favored programs in each council district with no central authority, no means of evaluating the various programs’ efficacy, little transparency and no accountability about how the millions flowing out of the city’s coffers were being spent. To remedy this, Chick and Rice recommended that all the city’s gang money be moved under a single roof.

    The city took Chick’s advice, and the program was consolidated under the exclusive control of the mayor’s office. LA Bridges was scrapped and GRYD replaced it.

    Officially begun in the summer of 2008, GRYD operates from the premise that not all gang life is created equal in Los Angeles. Some neighborhoods are far more dangerous than others. (In other words, Larchmont and Brentwood don’t need lots of gang reduction services.) So GRYD focuses its resources in 12 zones that have been judged to be extraordinarily gang intensive: 77th Division, Baldwin Village/Southwest, Boyle Heights/Hollenbeck, Cypress Park/Northeast, Florence-Graham/77th, Newton, Pacoima/Foothill, Panorama City/Mission, Ramona Gardens/Hollenbeck, Rampart, Southwest, and Watts/Southeast.

    So far so good. Maximizing this city’s slim resources by focusing on LA’s hottest zones is a wise strategy that may be marked as one of GRYD’s true accomplishments.

    Within those zones, programs are further divided into two categories: prevention and intervention. Accordingly, each of these zones is served by gang prevention and gang intervention agencies.

    Gang prevention efforts are just that. They are aimed at 10- to 15-year-olds who are at high risk of joining a gang but who haven’t yet taken that plunge. Prevention programs work to steer those kids in a positive direction.

    Gang intervention targets teenagers and young adults who are already in gangs, strongly associated with gangs, or in tagging crews, and offers them help in leaving violence behind through services such as job training, mentoring and counseling. Intervention, especially as the city defines it, also means “proactive peacemaking”—reaching out to gangs to broker peace treaties and stem retributive gang violence.

    In addition, GRYD also includes the mayor’s popular Summer Night Lights program, which keeps neighborhood parks open well past normal hours, and provides activities to keep kids out of trouble. The program also serves as a recruiting tool to help make contact with troubled kids and funnel them into the appropriate prevention or intervention program.

    Classically, gang-violence reduction is divided into three categories: prevention, intervention and suppression—law enforcement. Politicians, gang workers and police have come to agree that all three elements are needed to address the complex problem of gang violence. Police can put out fires, but—as Sheriff Lee Baca and LAPD chiefs Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck have repeatedly pointed out—arrests alone won’t end gang violence. Without programs that address the sociological side of the issue, a new generation of alienated youth will always spring up to pick up where their parents, siblings, cousins and friends left off.

    But despite the importance attached to the notion of gang-reduction work, figuring out what actually makes a measurable change in gang-afflicted communities isn’t easy. Like LA Bridges, plenty of well-intentioned but ineffective programs have come and gone throughout the country. But assessing any of these programs’ on-the-ground success requires the systematic analysis of an intricate array of variables.

    For instance, Mayor Villaraigosa likes to point out that crime is down by 10.7 percent in GRYD zones over the past year. But without rigorous comparisons to nationwide and/or statewide crime trends (both of which have also taken a big dive) and microspecific information about whether more police were deployed to those same areas, it’s impossible to say what led to the crime decrease.

    Real assessment, the kind that can’t be spun to suit political needs, is essential—without it, the mayor’s stat is nothing more than a political talking point and millions of dollars are being spent in the dark.


    With this problem in mind, the prevention side of GRYD’s program has been the focus of a concerted effort to standardize its methods into an effective model that can later be replicated. To do so, all of the GRYD’s 12 contracted prevention agencies are required to use the Youth Services Eligibility Tool (YSET), a lengthy questionnaire designed by a team of experts at the University of Southern California. In theory, the YSET gauges which children are most likely to be headed for gang membership based on nine “risk factors.” In other words, instead of judging a kid by his or her tattoos or behavior at school, the test isolates a set of psycho-social components that may lead to future gang membership; home life, past trauma, drug use and general mental health are among those taken into consideration. GRYD gang prevention agencies administer the 60-plus-question test to the kids who agency personnel deem good candidates, and then send the resulting data to USC for scoring and analysis. Kids who show four or more risk factors are considered to be adequately “at risk” and are therefore eligible for GRYD prevention services.

    The YSET is designed to be highly selective.

    “In the past, the paradigm was the Boys and Girls Club-type model, which was open to anyone and everyone,” explains Karen Hennigan, who heads USC’s involvement with GRYD. “But that model hasn’t worked in gang reduction. There are plenty of youth with family issues, but it’s not one or two issues that pose the greatest risk. It’s the piling on of risk factors.

    “The YSET creates a sample of youth with higher needs.”

    OK, fair enough. But here’s where things get tricky.

    For one thing, kids with serious problems who agency workers feel sure are headed straight for gang membership but who don’t show an overwhelming “piling on” of issues are denied services and made to serve as the “control group.” (We’ll get back to the “control group” in a minute.)

    In other words, LA children who may very well be in need of help—who experts in the field may even think are in desperate need—are tossed aside in favor of kids who match the academically generated model. For instance, according to an to an April 2009 Daily News story, GRYD had, at that time, tested 364 at-risk kids citywide. Out of that 364, only 100 were deemed acceptable. Today, GRYD’s numbers have improved somewhat. However, this seems to be mostly because program workers have begun recruiting from youth populations who are already in trouble with the law—not kids teetering on the edge.

    “Some kids who deserve attention don’t get anything. It raises concerns,” says Terry Dunworth, the Urban Institute’s researcher for the GRYD evaluation. “All of the kids have problems. They all deserve help. But GRYD wants to seek out only those most at risk.”

    “Establishing a cut-off point is always difficult,” says Hennigan in regard to ethics of the YSET methodology. “But it’s just as unethical to spread the money to everyone and have a program that’s ineffective.”

    She has a point. GRYD prevention programs have limited resources, so it undeniably makes sense to target the kids with the highest risk for gang membership.

    The problem, say critics, is that the YSET’s methodology itself may inadvertently eliminate a large number of the troubled young people it most aims to serve.

    “It’s not that the general concept of YSET isn’t useful,” said one GRYD insider who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s that the academics are basically running the program—and that’s a big problem.” The academics involved were really smart people, the insider explained. But they didn’t have experience in on-the-ground application of their theories.

    The theory-versus-practice discrepancy, say some GRYD critics, is where these prevention programs are running aground.


    In addition to the problems of eliminating kids in need of the program, no one knows how effective the Youth Services Eligibility Tool is. Despite two years’ worth of high-minded academic pronouncements, the Justice Report has found that data collection on the YSET was riddled with screw-ups. Until last month, the contracts that Gang Reduction and Youth Development negotiated with prevention providers did not contain provisions to retest children who initially failed the YSET. So there is no control group—the entire basis for a true evaluation.

    A little background on how all this is supposed to work: To set up an effective evaluation, you need to study both a test group that’s receiving services and a control group that’s not and compare the results. The environmental conditions of both the test subjects and the control group need to be as identical as possible—so for gang-prevention testing, that means establishing a control group of kids from the same neighborhood, with similar problems and backgrounds, as the kids who are receiving services. However, there are ethical dilemmas with this method. Namely, how in the world can you choose which troubled children from poor, dangerous LA neighborhoods get services and which land in the control group and get stuck with nothing?

    The YSET was designed to solve this quandary by tracking and retesting kids who initially failed the test and were subsequently denied services. Again, the ethics of this are questionable. If these kids are troubled enough to serve as a control group, why are they being denied full services?

    But that’s not the end of the YSET mess: Making matters worse, those promised retests never happened. So not only does that mean a year of lost data, it means that hundreds of children who may have been in desperate need of what GRYD purported to offer were screened out to serve as a control group that never materialized.

    Is the YSET too restrictive? Does it even work in identifying high-risk kids? Are GRYD prevention services philosophically on target? No one knows.

    Dunworth says that when the UI’s annual report is released sometime later this month, it will show progress in GRYD’s prevention efforts. YSET retests of 150 kids who went through the prevention program showed that “pro-social attitudes” improved—meaning kids in the program started to feel better about themselves. However, their behavior did not improve.

    “Bottom line,” says Dunworth, “without the control group, it made the test nothing more than a pilot.”

    In other words, no matter what cheery statistics are trotted out in the coming months after the UI’s year-end report is made public, there is no conclusive evidence that gang prevention efforts, or the Youth Services Eligibility Tool, are working.


    From its inception, the YSET was highly controversial among the gang-prevention experts who actually had to use it on live human beings. In the first six months of the YSET’s implementation, GRYD’s prevention service providers had a difficult time giving services to anyone—because, they said, the YSET was screening out too many kids. This meant that, while $12 million was being spent on GRYD prevention programs in LA’s hottest gang zones, YSET-hampered providers couldn’t manage to identify the requisite 200 kids per zone worthy of its services.

    “We had to test 100 kids to get 30 enrolled,” says Kathy Houston-Berryman, director of the Community Build GRYD prevention program in the Baldwin Village zone. And remember those 100 kids tested were not children with mild problems. They were all young people who were deemed to be likely candidates for help. “I think everyone was skeptical about the YSET,” says Houston-Berryman. “Time and again, kids we all thought had to be at risk were failing the test.”

    Community Build has since gotten its YSET pass rate up to 68 percent. (According to Hennigan, across GRYD the average is around 60 percent, up from 30 percent in the initial six months of the program). They’ve increased their numbers by targeting kids who are already in trouble in the system—like those in the LAPD’s Boot Camp program.

    “It’s too early to comment on whether this thing is working,” says Houston-Berryman. “I’m sure in the months ahead there will be dialogue—but we have seen some value in the YSET.”

    But others (who are not receiving GRYD paychecks) are a great deal more skeptical. The problem, they say, is that GRYD eligibility is entirely dependent on a troubled kid’s willingness to self-report shame-inducing and/or criminal behavior—a methodology that, by its structure, is likely to result in the screening out of the very young people whom the YSET is theoretically designed to identify.

    “The fact is, middle school kids lie,” says Jorja Leap, a gang expert, researcher at UCLA and the senior policy adviser on gangs and youth violence for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. “How many kids do you know that would implicate themselves for marijuana or heroin use?

    “How many adults do you know who would sit down for a test so long and incredibly invasive?”

    UI’s Dunworth says concerns about kids lying have validity: “Self-reported information is always subject to manipulation. There is no way to say self-reporting is 100 percent accurate.”

    He adds the caveat, however, that despite its flaws self-reporting is considered a valid methodology.

    Dunworth says that as more YSET data come in, the UI plans to go back and interview, in person, a cross section of kids, some who passed and some who failed the YSET—to determine whether they were lying on the tests. Only then can we begin to tell how effective the YSET is, he says. Until that study is completed—and hopefully yields useful data—the cumbersome YSET will continue to determine which of LA’s kids get access to GRYD prevention services and which are left to fend for themselves. Whether the kids who do get the services actually benefit from them is also a question that awaits an answer.

    Guillermo Cespedes, director of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, says his office acknowledges that contract snafus and data-collection flaws were the primary culprits for the lack of an adequate gang-prevention evaluation. He says the problem has been fixed, and that, as of several weeks ago, retesting of YSET ineligibles is mandated for all prevention providers in the GRYD system.

    “I’m not going to deny mistakes were made,” says Cespedes. “But mistakes will happen in a program of this magnitude. LA Bridges was given 11 years of funding. We’ve only had one year of full funding.” [Editors note: Actually, GRYD has been under the mayor's control for two years.]

    As for the YSET itself: “The old method of screening didn’t work. We were told to try something new, and that’s what we’re doing. Something like this has never been done before. We’re confident it’s working, but we need time.”


    In Part Two, due out around the end of August, we tackle an entirely different set of problems with the intervention side of the GRYD equation.

    Posted by Witness LA on 08/16/10
  • 7/28/10
  • City Controller Wendy Greuel releases audit evaluating Mayor's GRYD program

    From the WitnessLA Blog

    Follow the Gang Money: The Controller's Report

    On Tuesday, City Controller Wendy Greuel released her audit of the effectiveness of the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development programs—aka GRYD. (The report follows-up on former Controller Laura Chick’s 2008 report.)

    Overall Ms. Greuel said that the programs had made a lot of progress and, in effect, laid down a promising foundation on which future progress may be built.

    Her main criticism was that the city had spent $525,000 on an evaluation of the programs (with the cost of the ongoing eval rising as I type), but had gotten no real evaluation for that half million bucks plus.

    As you will see when we begin our Follow-the-Gang-Money stories, we agree completely with Controller Gruel about the not getting much for the evaluation $$$.

    But we have found that the problem goes a bit deeper. We have read the Urban Institute’s 60-page evaluation report very carefully.


    LAist Blog

    Mayor’s Gang Reduction Program Praised for Progress, but Criticized for Wasting Money “Overall, I believe GRYD is on the right path and has laid a solid foundation for the future,” said Greuel, in charge of evaluating City programs such as GRYD. “However, it’s unacceptable that a year later GRYD and it’s contractor have wasted $525,000 in taxpayer funds and have yet to complete an evaluation of GRYD’s effectiveness.

    Posted by Kristy Pyke on 07/28/10
  • 7/8/10
  • How Los Angeles Responds to Social Justice

    The  LA Justice Report's mission is to uncover and report on the nation's most difficult social problems.  The links here will guide you through efforts taking place to promote social justice in Los Angeles, and how you can play a part. 

    World Homeless Day October 10, 2010 is World Homeless Day. People are already starting to join Facebook groups (over 1,800 members) and forums, plan events, and rally within their community to make a difference.


    What is California doing for World Homeless Day? Join the forum and share ideas.


    News Coverage


    Immigration: Los Angeles: Denial of immigrant rights ‘has got to stop,’ say interfaith activists

    Religious organizations came together for a day of prayer on June 29 to urge opposition to Arizona’s immigration law. 


    Discussion forums regarding Arizona immigration law Should Los Angeles students to be taught that arizona immigration law is un-American?


    Gangs: City Launches Summer Anti-Gang Program


    Mayor Villaraigosa expands his Summer Night Lights program from 16 city parks to 24.


    Video captures history of gang tensions in Compton 


    YouTube documentary of Los Angeles gang wars




    Local Agencies Receive Federal Grants to Aid Homeless Veterans

    Programs like Salvation Army, People Assisting the Homeless, United States Vets Inc, and Volunteers of America received a total of $1.9 million in federal grants for job training and placement assistance for homeless veterans. 


    Welfare Recipients get $12,000 from strip club ATMs

    Welfare benefits have been accessible from ATMS inside strip clubs. Taxpayer money was potentially funding welfare recipient's time at well-known gentlemen's cabarets in Los Angeles. 


    Footage of a Los Angeles bridge being used as storage for homeless 


    Human trafficking: Speaking Out Against Human Trafficking 

    City Councilmember Tony Cardenas, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, and women from the El Monte apartments- where more than 70 Thai nationals were held against their will to work a sweatshop- all gathered at City Hall to speak out against human trafficking.  


    Non-profit Children of the Night helps teen prostitutes recover from their past

    Drugs: LAPD Says it Issued Warning About Rave Dangers

    Drug problem in local raves killed a 15-year-old girl and LAPD says they tried to warn staff at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where a massive rave was recently held. 


    ER visits for abuse of prescription drugs on the rise. Legal prescription drug abuse is the nations fastest growing drug problem 


    Pollution: LAUSD: Green Schools Growing in California’s Biggest District

    Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest district in the nation, and feels it is time they are also the greenest. 


    Social change organizations: How social change organizations make a difference?
    Top ten tools non-profit organizations use Sante D'Or Foundation provides care and shelter to animals who are seeking a new, permanent home YMCA of Los angeles provides community programs for families, children, and community members
    Homeboy Industries assists at-risk and formerly gang involved youth.
    Union Rescue Mission: Serving the homeless on skid row and around Los Angeles 
    Dream Center: Rehab center and homeless shelter
    Artists United for Social Justice: Uses multimedia to educate public on issues of human rights and social justices .
    Posted by Kristy Pyke on 07/08/10
  • 6/25/10
  • Following the Gang Money: Where are the City's GRYD Evaluations?



    Really, all we’re asking for is a little of the mayor's much promised transparency and accountability.

    It’s a season of ongoing budgetary nightmares. LA’s libraries are losing one-third of their staff. Even the city’s firefighters are taking budget hits. However one of the few programs or agencies in all of Los Angeles that has not seen its funding slashed is the city’s $26 million plus Gang Reduction and Youth Development program—or GRYD.

    This is not to suggest that the city doesn’t need every penny of that GRYD money. Even after LA’s drop in crime, Los Angeles is still the gang capital the nation. Gang violence takes lives, wrecks futures, fills prisons and causes staggering levels of measurable PTSD in school-age kids who live in gang-intense neighborhoods.

    In truth, $26 million is not all that much considering the gravity and complexity of the problem.

    Yet the the very scarcity of funds is much of the reason why the community at large deserves to know exactly what we’re getting for our prevention/intervention millions now that we are two years into the mayor’s GRYD strategies—which is precisely why WitnessLA and Spot.Us have hired Matt Fleischer to find out under the banner of the LA Justice Report.

    Matt's been digging up a lot very intriguing information already. (The fruits of his labors will appear later this summer.) 

    But, as he digs and explores, it has been a bit vexing to find that the least cooperative people have been those in the mayor's GRYD office.

    Take for example the issue of the evaluation:

    As part of its mandate, GRYD  has contracted with the Urban Institute to conduct an evaluation of the various GRYD programs' for performance and efficacy---for a fee of $900,000.  The gang programs were officially moved to the mayor's office in July of '08 and here we are in late June of 2010.  Yet, thus  far we can find no one outside of GRYD who has seen any part of any kind of an evaluation.

    And GRYD ain't sharing.

    In fact, every time Matt asked for any information whatsoever regarding the UI evaluation city officials switched on their vague-afiers.

    It was in draft form, they said, so they couldn't give him that.
    Now, granted, the evaluation is a 3-5 year project, which means that every interim report is, by definition, a "draft" until 2013 or 14 or whatever, when there will be a final report.   But that doesn't mean there aren't reports at the one year mark.  Surely GRYD wants to know---and would want us to know---that they are on the right track with their $26 million worth of gang violence prevention and intervention strategies.  Matt said that a draft of the evaluation would fine.  Anything would be better than nothing.  At this, the GRYD people remembered urgent business elsewhere and stopped replying to his requests altogether.

    Just out of curiosity, I called a contact who is an insider at the LA City Council.  I reasoned that since the council is responsible for approving all GRYD's city funds, surely a well-placed person in the council offices could get some kind of interim evaluation at this point.  Nope, they'd asked for it, he said.  And so far, nada.  

    "The council gets quarterly reports," he said, "but they don't say much.  

    He reminded me that one of the selling points for moving LA's gang dollars away from the city council and putting the money all under the single roof of the mayor's office was to insure that the program would be more accountable and transparent than the city's previous gang violence reduction programs had been.  (cough) LA Bridges (cough, cough).

    "Well, the mayor is two years into having all the money, and we've not seen a lot of either transparency and accountability," he said grumpily. "They aren't very good at collaborating either.  As a result, if you  as  a taxpayer ask me what you're really getting for your money, I can't really tell you."

    Okay, we aim to change that.  That's what Matt's reporting for WLA and Spot.Us is all about.

    Posted by Witness LA on 06/25/10
  • 5/24/10
  • Greg Boyle: Tattoos on the Heart, and Homeboy Industries Financial Situation

    We know that on a budget of $8 million a year Homeboy Industries helps approximately 12,000 gang members in their struggle to get out of gang life.  We also know that the City of Los Angeles has a $25 million yearly budget for gang prevention and intervention services---not one penny of which goes to Homeboy.    Now that the city's most successful gang recovery program is fighting for its life, we think our investigation into what the city is doing with that yearly $25 million becomes even more urgent.

    “If we lose hope, then we will be unable to give hope.”

    Former gang member, now senior staff member at Homeboy Industries

    Thursday night Father Greg Boyle was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
    He’s been on the show several times before but this show was I think the best. It was inspiring, funny—and extremely upsetting because of Homeboy Industries’ present situation.

    (Here’s the link to listen to the show online. Do it. I promise you won’t be sorry.)

    Fresh Air’s host, Terry Gross, wanted Greg to be on the show, in part, because of the release of his new book, Tattoos on the Heart, which is steadily moving up the LA Times best seller list.

    But first Gross was interested in talking about the financial crisis at Homeboy.

    It has been exactly one week since Homeboy Industries announced that it was laying off 330 of its 427 employees because, after nearly 20-years of operation, the largest and best known gang intervention program in the nation simply could not meet its payroll.

    The various businesses that Homeboy runs—the bakery, the cafe, the silkscreen business, the merchandise—will keep going because they are largely self-sustaining and becoming ever more successful. But the day-to day-operations—the jobs programs (training, placement and interim employment), tattoo removal, legal and psychological services—which serve upwards of 12,000 men and women a year, need a cash infusion of $5 million dollars to return to fiscal health and sustainability.

    To be clear: the $5 million is not needed to square a deficit. Homeboy did not spend itself into a $5 million a hole. It has been struggling for nearly a year to make up for the loss of grants and big ticket donations that vanished into the abyss of the collapsing economy. This slowdown of the funding stream was combined with the burgeoning need for Homeboy’s services, a need that the same economic meltdown engendered. The organization patched together operating cash for as long as it could. Then one day it couldn’t any more. That day was, officially, last Thursday.

    The needed $5 million will give give the organization the breathing room to recover to a point of fiscal sustainability, plus provide a cushion so that it is not one emergency away from another cash flow catastrophe.

    (To put this in perspective, MOCA needed two separate $30 million endowments to return itself to sustainability. Reggie the Alligator cost $7.9 million to be caught and housed, which as Greg mentions on Fresh Air, is roughly Homeboy’s yearly budget.)

    Since last week, there has been a nonstop outpouring of support—both monetary and emotional—from ordinary people. But no deep pocket angels have thus far stepped forward with the necessary big pot of cash. Although the wealthy of Los Angeles universally praise Father Greg as “saintlike” or whatever, in most cases, that’s as far it goes.

    Wednesday, the day he taped the Fresh Air broadcast, was Father Greg’s 56th birthday and the recently-laid-off staff of Homeboy, plus a crowd of others who consider Greg to be “my real father,” came to surprise him with a cake, cheering, hugs, tears and some checks, one check for $1000, funds raised by a bunch of concerned UCLA students.

    (And while we’re on the subject, DONATIONS TO HOMEBOY MAY BE MADE HERE.

    I spent most of the day at Homeboy, in part to be present for Greg’s party. But more than anything, I just needed to spend time on the premises, to be in some kind of—I don’t know—solidarity with the people and the program that I care about so much.

    Here’s the thing: I cannot imagine Los Angeles without the services, the community—and the hope—that Homeboy provides. I mean it. I simply cannot imagine it. The thought feels like the what-if-George-Bailey-had never-lived part of “Its a Wonderful Life,“—times ten thousand.

    As Greg’s cake was being passed out, I looked around the room at those who had come to celebrate with much joy and much worry. I saw person after person who, at one time or another, had told me that they are not sure they would be alive were it not for Father Greg and Homeboy.

    The statements are not hyperbole. Just based on my own knowledge, if pressed, I could list off the top of my head at least 100 people—double or triple that if I made a real effort—who could easily be dead, locked up for a very long time, or mired in some other chasm of despair, if it were not for this place that, with a few notable exceptions, the wealthy and powerful of Los Angeles have thus far not deemed worthy of rescue.

    For example, there is Louis Perez, pictured above at the recent ALOUD event with Father Greg that I moderated. Louis, who is 30 years old, spent 12 of his 30 years on earth locked up in some incarceration facility or other, both juvenile and adult. Now Louis is on Homeboy’s senior staff and is one of the most talented people you’ll ever meet at helping younger guys gather the courage to change their own lives. “This place gave me the family I didn’t have,” he says, tearing up when he says it. “Father Greg was the father I didn’t have. That’s the way it is for most of us.”

    Wednesday, I also spent time talking to Gustavo Martinez, whom I’ve known since back in the day when he was a young and surly gangster. Even during his bad old gang days, Gus was also wickedly funny with a heart the size of Wyoming, despite the fact that, when he was a child, his mother used to put cigarettes out on his skin—and worse.

    Due to the combination of horrific childhood abuse, gang-engendered PTSD, and a series of deaths of friends close to him, in the last few years Gus suffered from clinical depression that sent him into spirals of incapacitation. Therapy at Homeboy, plus the support of the community, has brought him back to himself and he now is working as the assistant maintenance supervisor for the building. (He was busily unclogging a pesky drain in the Homegirl cafe as I was leaving the offices.)

    Two weeks ago, before the layoffs, Gus confided to me that he had signed up for a series of cooking classes. “I can cook, no problem,” he told me. “But I want to learn to use spices. Spices are the key.” Knowing him as I do, I was delighted by his admission. It wasn’t so much the cooking that struck me, it was what it symbolized in rebooted optimism.

    For Gus too, Homeboy is the only family, the only parent, the one dependably caring place that has allowed him to right himself.

    It’s important to know too that, in many ways, Gus is the exception, not the rule in terms of those who pass through these programs.
    In fact, most of those I know whose lives have been transformed by Homeboy Industries weren’t there on Wednesday because the party was in the middle of the business day and, having gotten their start at one of Homeboy’s programs, they had long ago graduated and were hard at work elsewhere— on a construction crew, as a PA on a movie set (or higher up the film crew food chain), as a crew manager for an oil and gas company, in administration at a local college, in auto mechanics or, in one case, at a legal firm, in another case, working for the mayor of Los Angeles.

    Yet, for each of them, at the crucial moment-–often at many, many crucial moments—Homeboy provided the needed “no-matter-what-ness” as Greg puts it, the firm, unshakable conviction the young man or woman is worth something, that he or she matters and can have a decent future beyond what their past had predicted. Even when homeboys and homegirls are still too enmeshed in gangs to qualify to work at Homeboy, a belief in their possibilities and inherent goodness is held for them, as if in trust —”no matter what.”

    A homegirl I ran into on Wednesday is one of those who, like Gus, has not made it to the graduation goal line. She is at an earlier stage than he is, yet her progress is heartening. Her name is Jessica Valles. When she was young, one of Jessica’s eyes was terribly damaged in a gang shooting. Forever after it bulged, froglike, from its socket, and no parent or family member had either the wherewithal or the desire to see that it got repaired. The eye combined with severe childhood abuse turned Jessica into a very tough and very angry young woman. Yet, to anyone bothering to glance slightly below the surface, the hurt girl beneath the fury was always visible.

    I met her a few years ago when she first came to Homeboy. For a long time, her progress was a matter of four-steps-forward, three-and-a-half back. She’d be working, doing well, then would explode and disappear into her old life. The steps forward seemed to take better hold when, last year, through a Homeboy connection, she was finally able to get the needed plastic surgery to have her eye fixed.

    After that, the Homeboy staff got her into rehab so that she could kick the meth with which she often self-medicated. She would sometimes call me from the rehab facility, saying she was making progress, that she finally understood that all the rage was masking tears. “It’s hard to face,” she said. “But I’m strong, Celeste. I’m strong. And it’s different from my old strength.”

    But now that she is out of rehab, she needs a job. Finding nothing elsewhere, she came to the Homeboy offices for help.

    When I saw Jessica on Wednesday, she told me confidently
    that she was on the waiting list for a job at Homeboy.

    I winced at her statement, and asked if she was aware of the recent money troubles.

    She nodded. “I know they can’t hire me now,” she said. “But I’ll wait. And I’ll find a way to make it until they can. I’ve gotten this far. I’m strong.” She paused, her expression faltering. “I need to be here,” she said finally. And then she repeated the refrain I’ve heard a zillion times. “G’s like the parent I never had. And Homeboy’s like the home I never had, you know what I’m sayin’?”

    I did. I do.

    But the more relevant question is does the rest of Los Angeles understand Homeboy’s importance?—both to the homeboys and homegirls who seek its help, and to the city’s own claim to humanity.

    As of this writing, it is a question that remains open.

    “My hope is that this will be a moment where people in Los Angeles put first things recognizably first…. A Warhol, the Hollywood Sign, and Reggie the Alligator seem to be of more value, frankly, than the 12,000 gang members who walk through our doors every year. So maybe this is a moment for people to say, ‘That’s not right, actually.’”

    Greg Boyle, May 19, 2010, on Fresh Air

    Posted by Witness LA on 05/24/10
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