Buffalo pastor embarks on annual journey to homelessness

Pastor Eric Johns raises awareness on Boxes of Love and fight against homelessness in WNY

Mike Baggerman
November 25, 2019 - 7:00 pm
Pastor Eric Johns and his family embarks to Downtown Buffalo to live with homeless for next week. November 25, 2019 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

Pastor Eric Johns and his family embarks to Downtown Buffalo to live with homeless for next week. November 25, 2019 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - A Buffalo area pastor took to the streets on Monday for the 21st consecutive year in an effort to connect and shine a light on homelessness in Western New York.

Pastor Eric Johns from the Buffalo Dream Center on the city's west side began his trek to Downtown Buffalo on Monday morning with his family.

"It's something I look forward to every year since we started 21 years ago," he said. "This week draws attention to the need that's in the community. Hopefully, Western New York rallies around what we're doing. We're able to, from this week, help a lot of people this Christmas."

The Boxes of Love program helps thousands of families each year. It provides food and wrapped gifts for kids. Johns said upwards of 5,000 kids will get a wrapped gift this Christmas.

Johns is leaving the warm and comfort of his own home to venture into the cold weather that the homeless people in the Buffalo community live in each day. His week-long experience includes visiting, and eating at, local soup kitchens, interacting with those in the homeless community, and even sleeping under the bridges on Exchange Street.

"A lot of the guys on the streets are now our friends at the Dream Center," Johns said. "We pick them up and bring them to almost all our programs. We're not going to really be around strangers during the week."

When it comes to battling homelessness in the region, Johns said he's seen some areas improve while others remain stagnant. He's observed a decline in veteran homelessness. However, he has seen a rise in women and children who are homeless. Johns also said he's seen a rise in the number of working poor people who utilize soup kitchens.

"There's a lot of resources in Buffalo where people can get help," he said. "I think now, more than ever, we're all working together as well, which is really cool. 21 years ago when I first started this, nobody except for maybe Hearts for the Homeless, was downtown and feeding people. Now there's certain nights of the week where there's medical students from UB checking on people's health. There's people handing out soup and making burritos downtown. There's people checking out how they're doing."

Johns said he does not worry about his safety when he's out in the elements. A person who was once homeless and attends Buffalo Dream Center goes with Johns each year.

"I'm never out there alone," he said. "The first year I was all by myself, everybody thought I was crazy and didn't want to do it with me. Now I have to turn people away because people want to come and be a part of it."

To help support The Buffalo Dream Center’s Boxes of Love program, call 854-1001.  Information can also be found at www.buffalodreamcenter.org.

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