Buffalo pastor continues annual tradition of living among homeless

Eric Johns reaches milestone: 20 years of raising awareness

Mike Baggerman
November 19, 2018 - 9:11 am

WBEN Photo/Tim Wenger


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - The annual tradition of living homeless for a week in the cold continues for a Buffalo pastor.

Reverend Eric Johns, a pastor at Buffalo Dream Center, begins his life on the streets on Monday. He'll continue his journey through Saturday, sleeping outside and in shelters while eating at soup kitchens and spending his days with those less fortunate.

It's all for a good cause: raising awareness about Boxes of Love to help give food to more than 3,000 families this Christmas.

FLASHBACK: Watch Johns living among the homeless in 2017

"It's hard to believe it began 20 years ago," Johns told WBEN. "When my wife and I first started our church in the City of Buffalo, we immediately started reaching out to little kids. A lot of those kids are now young adults in our congregation. We found that a lot of those kids didn't get anything for Christmas. We were a small church back then and wondered how we could do something to get them Christmas gifts."

It was at that moment when he decided to leave his home the Monday before Thanksgiving. 

"It drew a lot of media attention and people found out about the Buffalo Dream Center and what we were doing and they gave," he said. "We were able to help 200 kids with Christmas presents. 20 years later, we're feeding 3,000 families and wrapping gifts for over 5,000 children every year. Really, the catalyst for the people getting involved is this week on the streets that we do every year now."

Johns said that he never imagined he'd be still doing this 20 years later but said it's rewarding when people thank him and provide messages of encouragement. 

New this year for the pastor will be a visit to Niagara Falls, where he will visit food shelters, speak at a chapel service, and speak to several of the homeless people. 

Johns, 47, acknowledged that despite taking every precautions, living out in the cold has become tougher in the 20 years he's done it because of his age and the general conditions.

"Walking around in the cold and sleeping on the concrete is definitely different than it used to be," he said. "Pretty much by the end of the week I'm really sore. Well, if I'm being honest, probably about half way through the week I feel like I've been out longer than that."

While the pastor can chuckle at his own expense of living out in the conditions, he acknowledges the serious lifestyle that many of those who are homeless are forced to live in.  

"Whenever I've done this I've never claimed to be an expert on homelessness or claimed to know what it's really like to totally be homeless," Johns explained. "I know at the end of the week on Saturday morning I'm going home. I have many of my friends living on the streets right now that will be coming to a meal at the Buffalo Dream Center. Some of them I've known for years on the streets. It's definitely that's different, even mentally, to do with. Not just physically...My heart goes out to the people who are out there all the time."

Johns has two sons, ages 15 and 14, who are joining him on his annual venture. The pastor said he plans to continue living out in the streets but noted that he does eventually plan to pass the venture to his sons.

Boxes of Love is always in need of volunteers. To volunteer, you can call 854-1001 or visit BuffaloDreamCenter.org. 


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