Pastor Payne on 40-mile trek for homeless aid

BELLE GLADE — Pastor Eric Payne of New Zion Assembly – The New Church here is planning a personal crusade to raise public awareness of the serious problem of homelessness in the Glades region, and to establish a shelter.

There are no facilities now available in the area for housing some of the most vulnerable populations in Palm Beach County, in the most impoverished part of the county, where lack of affordable housing is considered a near crisis, he explained.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Courtesy of Eric Payne
The Rev. Eric Payne, who doubles as a personal trainer, with his wife, Theresa, made up T-shirts so people can help support his “Run to Belle Glade” in a quest to assist the homeless.
Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Courtesy of Eric Payne
Mr. Payne has already scoped out part of his 40-mile route across the Glades.

So, starting at 4 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, “in an effort to raise awareness and funds for the homeless situation in the Glades and to ease the housing crisis and housing shortage, I will run, walk, or even crawl beginning at Lakeside Hospital on State Road 80.” He’ll go east to 20-Mile Bend and back on SR 80 to Lakeside (40-plus miles).

As of now, he said, “it will just be me running and my wife (Theresa Payne) trailing behind me.

“I’m not a marathoner nor an ultra-marathoner,” he said. “Just a pastor, father and man who knows firsthand what it is to be without a place to lay your head.”

He’s been an ordained minister for almost 10 years. The congregation he pastors is small in number and there is no church building, so they have services in his family’s apartment in Belle Glade.

This year, the Rev. Payne also established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Glades Family Services Inc. It was registered in February as a charitable, educational, religious multipurpose human services organization. Its goal is to eventually establish a shelter in the Glades.

The Rev. and Mrs. Payne use the corporation to provide shelter for homeless families, work toward affordable housing for all and end the crisis in the Glades. They try to guide people who come to them for help in the right directions for whatever their biggest needs are. “We endeavor to provide some of the necessary resources an individual and their family needs to change their future,” he said.

Small fundraisers so far
They have not attracted a lot of attention or raised much cash so far, but that’s about to change. Pastor Payne said they began with some small fundraiser requests on GoFundMe and Facebook a short while back.
“We started on smaller amounts for something immediate because … as winter is approaching, we wanted to do something like get jackets for people, coats, sweaters and whatnot because we see the effects of that here in the Glades.

“But, there wasn’t enough to do anywhere near what we would have liked to have done.”

Undeterred, they decided to look for local properties that could be converted into at least a “starter” homeless shelter. Pastor Payne said he found and tried to research several vacant buildings that would have sufficed, “but either those people wouldn’t call me back or I couldn’t get information online or records, no contact numbers.”

About a year ago one day, as they were driving home from a meeting at city hall, a roomy two-story building on Second Street caught his eye, and they stopped and looked around. Decided it’d be perfect.

Mr. Payne said it took him months to get in touch with the woman who owns the property. “She was reluctant to talk, and I finally was able to connect with her, and sat down and talked with her. Yesterday, we went to her home,” he said in a Nov. 14 interview. “We talked for two-plus hours, and she had said that there were plenty of people asking about buying it, and she told them all ‘no’. Part of it was because she wanted to add something to the community that was going to be a plus. She didn’t want to sell it to anybody that would do something with it that would make it either an eyesore or bring the wrong type of ‘element’ into the neighborhood.”

‘Ridiculously great price’
They ended up striking a deal with her, but there’s a deadline.

“Her heart is right with me being a pastor and my vision,” he said, “and so I kid you not, we know she could have gotten way more…” but the woman offered to sell the building to Rev. Payne, his church and nonprofit, for 15 percent more than fair market value. That comes to just over $206,000 using the property appraiser’s number, “and if you go around the area, that is a ridiculously great price because she could easily get $300,000 for that.”

“We entered into a written agreement yesterday, and it’s a blessing,” the Rev. Payne said. That’s because the property would be perfect for their purposes.

There’s a hitch. They have to raise the $206,000 by Jan. 1, 2020. The short, approximately 45-day timeline doesn’t scare them, though. “I believe that when people know what’s up … what she’s doing for us, so when we’re asking people to donate or to give, they should know that the property’s worth far more but somebody’s blessing us, someone who wants to see a need met in the community, and she’s giving us a huge discount!” the Rev. Payne said.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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