Congregations from two faiths come together to help families in need

The Rev. Lance Lowell, middle, Rabbi Shalom Bochner, right, and Family Promise Executive Director Tamra Losinski talk about the faith-based shelter program that includes several congregations in the Modesto area. The program gives shelter to homeless families that keeps the families together.
The Rev. Lance Lowell, middle, Rabbi Shalom Bochner, right, and Family Promise Executive Director Tamra Losinski talk about the faith-based shelter program that includes several congregations in the Modesto area. The program gives shelter to homeless families that keeps the families together.

“I literally say this is a match made in heaven,” Congregation Beth Shalom Rabbi Shalom Bochner said.

For his part, the Rev. Lance Lowell, pastor of Neighborhood Church, compared the pairing to a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, riffing off the old advertisements about “two great tastes that taste great together.”

Either way, both faith leaders say their partnership to shelter the homeless a few times a year through Family Promise of Greater Modesto has been a blessing as much to their houses of worship as to the families assisted.

We need to expand this (cooperative work among different faiths). In the sense of people sitting down together, the differences are real politically and religiously and ethnically, but those differences don’t need to divide us.

Rabbi Shalom Bochner, Congregation Beth Shalom

Sitting with Lowell and Family Promise Executive Director Tamra Losinski on Sunday afternoon, Bochner recalled some of the circumstances that led to the partnership. The Sherwood Avenue synagogue was – and still is – having the problem of people sleeping outside its building and damaging property. As a spiritual leader, he wanted to be able to provide shelter to those in need but also to protect his congregation.

“I mentioned this to the board two to three years ago: If we’re going to be kicking people off our property, we need to find ways to invest in services that provide for the homeless,” he said.

He’d heard from Losinski a few times, he said, and after talking with her about Family Promise realized that helping was doable, not daunting.

Family Promise of Greater Modesto – featured this year in The Bee’s A Book of Dreams – is a network of faith communities that work together to temporarily house families. Each house of worship allows up to four families, or 14 individuals, to sleep at its facilities a week at a time. Sixteen congregations host families, Losinski said, and four others offer other kinds of support.

At a meeting in September, member congregations of Family Promise created a shelter schedule for 2017 and within 30 minutes had agreed on 43 weeks of the year. Congregations now are needed to house families only a few remaining weeks.

CBS had no beds to offer, Bochner said, but Family Promise has rollaways it moves among partner congregations. CBS has no showers at the synagogue, but Family Promise does at its day center.

CBS had rooms to offer – including a youth lounge, a library and a Hebrew Sunday school classroom – but lacked the manpower to have hosts spend nights at the synagogue, join families in games and other activities, prepare meals, do laundry and do other necessary work. That’s where Neighborhood Church came in. It didn’t have facilities where families could sleep, but its larger congregation could pick up the bigger share of volunteer services.

After first working together to house people for a week in July, CBS and Neighborhood Church paired again this past week to help two families: a mother and father and their five children, and a mother and her three children. On Sunday morning, the rollaway beds were moved out of CBS and taken to Ripon, where the families next will be hosted.

We all agree not to proselytize. And (during families’ stays) if there are any events the entire community is invited to, then the families we serve are invited. We don’t require any kind of religious participation. What we all agree on is that children should not be sleeping in cars or in garages. … What we say is every child deserves a safe place to sleep and an opportunity to thrive.

Tamra Losinski, Family Promise of Greater Modesto

Unlike shelters, which often have a cap on how long they will let families stay, Family Promise will assist families until they can get by on their own. “Our goal is 90 days, but in the current housing market, it’s challenging finding rentals,” Losinski said. “We have a good success rate: Over 80 percent of the families that shelter with us move on to stable either transitional or permanent housing.”

Family Promise has a lot of accountability measures in place for families, including weekly meetings with a case manager, and creation of a financial plan.

Bochner and Lowell both enjoy the two-pronged tale of how they met.

About the time he was being invited into the Family Promise network, Lowell said, he went on a trip to Israel with a group named Christians United for Israel. While there, the group’s regional coordinator said Bochner was interested in meeting with Lowell to learn more about Christians United for Israel.

I think after the first week, we knew we were going to be doing this more.

Pastor Lance Lowell, Neighborhood Church, saying that after the learning curve of co-hosting families in July, doing so again this month was easier

So upon his return to the U.S., a meeting was scheduled. “That same week, Tamra comes into my office and says, ‘We’re working with a place of faith, and they’ve got a place to host but need help.’ When Lowell learned it was CBS, he exclaimed, ‘I’m supposed to meet that guy!’ 

Bochner said the coincidental events couldn’t have gone better if planned. “In the course of 36 to 48 hours, his name and the church came up in totally different contexts of us working together. It was as if some angel said, ‘Let’s get these groups together.’ 

While what brought CBS and Neighborhood Church together was a shared goal of helping families in need, Lowell said, it occurred to him at some point in the partnership that something bigger was happening.

“There are a lot of messages of division in our culture right now,” he said, “and this can be our small way to say not everybody’s divided, not everybody is pointing out all the differences.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327