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Stockton houses of worship opening doors to homeless families in 2020

For some smaller houses of worship, the effort is a way to find a new identity as they try to help others in their community.

STOCKTON, Calif. — While the ambition has been there, break ins have prevented a small Stockton church as they try to help others. But a new program in San Joaquin County offers hope.

Zion Lutheran Church is one of 12 houses of worship that are opening their doors to homeless families. The start date hasn’t quite been set, but many like Zion Lutheran have committed themselves to a full year under the Family Promise of San Joaquin County.

The Family Promise program has 12 houses of worship committed to housing a homeless family for up to four weeks through the year. Each family stays for one week before moving to the next spot.

“We could not pull off something like this due to our size, but, partnering with other churches and partnering with another organization, we are able to better serve these families,” Burke Wallace of Zion Lutheran Church said. 

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At the church, they’ll have a place to do laundry, take a shower, and enjoy a hot meal, and, during the night, they'll have two congregation members stay with the families as they get some sleep in a warm bed. During the day, kids will get shuttled to school, and the other family members will head to the Family Promise center as they try to find a job, housing, or some other way to get their footing.

The families stay in the program until they’re back on their feet and have secured their own housing. For a small church, it can be a somewhat intimidating challenge.

“It makes us nervous, because we’ve not done something like this before,” Wallace said.

At one point, Zion Lutheran Church had hundreds of people attend their Sunday service. But, over time, the church’s congregation has reduced to about 60 attendees on Sundays, Wallace said. That decrease has left behind about six unused rooms that the church plans on using to help homeless families. 

When the opportunity presented itself in 2017 to join Family Promise of San Joaquin County, Wallace says Zion Lutheran was one of the first to sign aboard.

“We would hope that all churches would have the same mission,” Wallace said. “How churches live out that mission to help those in need is different, and that’s part of what makes society and different churches beautiful.”

RELATED: How a 500-bed shelter in Stockton will give those in need a 'new life'

For Wallace, the new effort is a way for small churches and other houses of worship to find an identity and new way to realize their mission of helping others.

“Back in our prime, we had hundreds of members,” Wallace said. “There are many churches like us… that have buildings they no longer need. We have five to six classrooms that we are able to make safe and secure for these families.”

RELATED: One of the largest, long-term homeless programs for women coming to Stockton

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