Homeboy IndustriesLos Angeles-based youth program, Homeboy Industries, has been offering alternatives to gang life for at-risk youth, helping them turn their lives around for more than 20 years. However, due to the economic problems both California and the nation are enduring, it had to lay off most of its employees last week.

According to an L.A. Times report, founder Father Gregory Boyle had to let 300 of his people go, including all senior staff and administrators.

It’s so bad, even Boyle says he has stopped taking a paycheck.

“We let people know so they could apply for unemployment, which I’m going to do as well,” he told the paper.

Boyle started Homeboy Industries in Boyle Heights during the height of the city’s gang wars. At the time, he would find sympathetic businesses that agreed to hire recovering gang members. The program expanded over the years, and would offer counseling and tutoring, in addition to employment opportunities.

One of their most successful programs over the years is free tattoo removal. Homeboy Industries would complete around 250 treatments per month, according to Wikipedia.

The program means so much to the young men involved that despite the lack of funding, many have told Boyle they would come back, even without pay.

Boyle tells the Times that it needs around $5 million to continue operating, but its been hard to get amount of donations needed, especially because of the people they’re helping.

“If these were puppies or little kids, we wouldn’t be in this trouble,” he told the paper. “But they’re tattooed gang members with records. So I think a lot of people love this place, but not the folks who can write the big checks, the ‘Save the Hollywood sign’ check.”

More than 100 are still employed through Homeboy Industries other business — including a store, bakery and Homegirl Cafe — for now.

Over the years, Boyle has become an icon in Los Angeles. Some even say he should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize, said the Times.

For further information, visit Homeboy-Industries.org.