“Homeless pastor’s” church losing its building

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Buffalo Dream Center, best known for its pastor who spends a week sleeping on city streets with the homeless each November, will lose both of its buildings by the end of 2014.

If the church cannot find new spaces to from which to operate, all of its programs may have to be suspended.

The Dream Center has been using warehouse space in the Larkin Building to store donations for its St. Joseph Mobile Food Pantry, as well as the truck itself. For 20 years, it has run its Kidz Club, afterschool program, Sunday ministry, and annual “Boxes of Love” Christmas campaign out of the Buffalo Christian Center on Pearl Street.

In April, Pastor Eric Johns learned the church would have to vacate the Larkin warehouse.

“[Larkin] has been really great to us for four years. And we’re still there, actually. They’ve shuffled us to a different part of the building. But now, we’ve got to be out of there probably within a month or so,” Pastor Johns explained Thursday.

The sale of the Buffalo Christian Center, located on Pearl Street in downtown Buffalo, to the Ellicott Development Company means that the church now has to move out of that building as well.

“We’ve worked out a post-occupancy agreement with Ellicott Development Company. We’re allowed to stay until the end of the year, ’til about December 31,” said Pastor Johns.

“This is probably the biggest obstacle that we’ve ever faced. Having been around for 20 years and losing both of our buildings at once was a little bit emotional at first for everybody, and hard to deal with,” the pastor said.

More than just four walls

The situation amounts to much more than just the loss of buildings.

Dezmond McClinton was only 5-years-old, and living in a rough city neighborhood that was plagued by violence, when he first set foot inside the Buffalo Dream Center. Now a young man, he volunteers with the church, mentoring inner-city kids.

“For a program that the Dream Center was doing to come into my neighborhood… And bring us to the Christian Center, it was wonderful,” McClinton told News 4. “It was a chance to just be in a safe haven, so to speak. And it was just one of those impacting things that, as a child, you don’t really know where it’s going to come from, but you hope it comes. And it came in the form of the Buffalo Dream Center.”

Tomaine Jordan, another young man who grew up in the church and is now part of the mentoring program, said he can’t imagine what his life would be like without the Dream Center.

“I met Pastor Eric when I was 9-years-old. And honestly, it was life-changing,” Jordan said. “He steered me in the right direction, mentored me; he was there for me and my family.”

“We just got done playing basketball with some kids,” said Jordan. “Helping kids stay on the right track, stay out of trouble, off the streets. It’s a great need… And it must continue. Everything that we do at the Dream Center, the mentoring, giving out food.”

“You see so much more in them, the potential,” added McClinton. “We have a couple of teenaged kids who kind of look up to me, like an older brother. Seeing them go from somewhat in the streets to now, they want to turn a different leaf, and really show kids that you can go a different way. You don’t have to do what everybody else is doing on the streets. You can become a lawyer, a doctor, you can do whatever you dream of.”

Financial constraints

Purchasing new properties isn’t an option for the Buffalo Dream Center, because it operates on a very limited budget.

“Two-thirds of our congregation’s under the age of 20. Most of them are kids that we bus in from housing projects, high-risk neighborhoods, kids that don’t come with their parents. So our income basis isn’t the greatest,” explained Pastor Johns.

His hope, and the hope of the church’s volunteers, is that someone can donate space for both the food pantry warehouse, and the main worship center.

“The warehouse, we need a place with loading docks where we can pull up trucks, and a place where the New York State Health Department will pass, because we’re dealing with food. We’re a Food Bank organization. We’ve been shown warehouses by some really nice people that have space, but we know they wouldn’t pass health codes,” Johns explained.

“The community has been great to us for two decades, always come alongside of us when we’ve run into different snags.”

And the hope is the community will rally around the Buffalo Dream Center again.

“What we do is change lives. I’m so thankful I met Pastor Eric, because my life has changed” said Jordan. “If you’re out there and you have space, a building, anything you would like to donate, or be a part of a great cause to help kids in the inner city… I’d encourage you just to be a part of it.”

“This one church, that does so many things, has only two small needs that can be met, easily,” McClinton said.

If you believe you have a space that the Buffalo Dream Center may be able to use, you can call the church at 854-1001 or send an email through its website.

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