Gang prevention conference speaker says 'hopeful' kids don't join gangs

About 150 people gathered Friday in San Luis Obispo for the fourth annual Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Conference to discuss strategies both for discouraging youths from joining gangs and for helping former gang members to succeed.

The conference, hosted by the county Anti-Gang Coordination Commission, featured keynote speaker Father Gregory Boyle, founder of the nonprofit Homeboy Industries in East Los Angeles which provides job training and employment for 300 former gang members every year.

Boyle said poverty and a lack of opportunities encourage gang membership.

“Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who has joined a gang ever,” Boyle said. “They’re always fleeing something, no exceptions.”

The conference included workshops for residents, community and faith-based groups, and law enforcement. The mission of the commission is to improve collaboration between the community and law enforcement with a focus on identifying youths at risk of joining a gang and providing alternatives, as well as programs for former gang members.

District Attorney-elect Dan Dow said the county is on the right track with sober living facilities, tattoo removal services and programs at the jail.

“We must continue to do more work in educating our young people and providing positive opportunities so that they never reach a point in life where they feel that they have no hope,” he said.