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Pastor of the homeless makes plea for rescue of his vanishing mission

Buffalo’s pastor of the homeless soon may be homeless himself – or at least his mission may be.

Pastor Eric T. Johns’ Buffalo Dream Center has to leave the Buffalo Christian Center building by the end of the year. This is on top of the notice he received in April that the Dream Center warehouse, where the charity mission stores donations of food, clothing, furniture and appliances, will have to leave the Larkin Center of Commerce on Exchange Street to make way for a paying tenant.

Johns made a plea for help Thursday on Michigan Avenue, under the Kensington Expressway overpass, where he spends a week with the homeless each November. He is asking the community to donate space or money for church space and warehouse.

“We find ourselves in need of two buildings at the same time,” Johns said. “Every church has its struggles. I would say this is probably the biggest thing that we’ve encountered.”

Johns said he also would be able to use a building that could serve as both church and storage facility. But he needs to find donated space or money quickly, because time is running out. So far, spaces considered have required either more rent or more costly renovations than the center can afford.

Johns and his wife, who founded the Buffalo Dream Center in 1994, have used the Buffalo Christian Center, 512 Pearl St., to hold Sunday services and house after-school and youth mentoring programs for almost 20 years. And they have used the Larkin Center to order and store truckloads of donations to feed about 400 families each month with their mobile food pantry in poverty-stricken Buffalo neighborhoods.

Ellicott Development Co. bought the Buffalo Christian Center a few weeks ago. Johns says he didn’t even know the building was for sale. He said that Ellicott Development is allowing him to stay at least until the end of the year but that he would like to have a new location settled before then.

“Everybody that’s been involved has been great,” Johns said. “It’s just what happens. Ellicott has been helping us look at other places and suggesting options.”

For the warehouse, he said, they need 6,000 to 10,000 square feet of space. The church needs room for about 200 people each Sunday plus classrooms for the youth programs.

“Maybe even a kitchen, if they have it,” Johns added, ever hopeful.

The Larkin Center gave Johns 45 days’ notice to leave in April, but it has extended the center’s stay while Johns looks for new space. Now they have to leave by October, when the new tenant is expected to move in.

There was a point a few weeks ago when he was overwhelmed and worried, Johns says, but he hopes his appeal helps spread the word and brings a donor forward.

“I’m hoping that none of our programs have to stop,” he said. “But the reality of it is that we may have to have a period of time where we’re on hold with some of our programs. But, hopefully, that doesn’t happen.”