SAN ANTONIO – Bordering the access road of I-37 north just east of downtown are several new outdoor food and drink venues in the works or already in business.
Smoke BBQ+SKYBAR was among the first to turn a vacant lot into a popular gathering spot, which is said to have been overrun by UT football fans in town for the Alamo Bowl.
It has big screen TVs, a stage for live music, and its signature barbecue and cold refreshments, with a two-story addition next door under construction with an even better view of downtown San Antonio.
“We had the ability to come in here and really transform the space to make this beautiful skyline pop,” said Adrian Gomez, who oversees the venue.
He said it also didn’t hurt that he and owner Adrian Martinez found the space was much more affordable than their prior location.
Yet he admits it was a challenge having people experiencing homelessness in the area, who were initially camped out below I-37.
Now their tents are just below one end of the historic Hays Street Bridge, a few blocks away from the outdoor venues.
Given her past experience of being forced to move from one place to another, a woman named Ashley said she can’t help but feel, “They don’t want us here. They don’t want us there. They don’t want us nowhere.”
Ashley said she worries they may have to move again, possibly further away from the nonprofits that provide them meals and places to shower.
Dawn White Fosdick, president and CEO of Christian Assistance Ministry, said her agency and other nonprofits can help manage the evolving situation in hopes of avoiding any issues between its clients and business owners.
“We want to help them make the right decisions on how they handle someone maybe who comes onto their property that may be experiencing a mental health issue,” Fosdick said.” How do you treat somebody with dignity and respect but also protect your own property?”
She said a group known as the McCullough Avenue Consortium was formed in response to growth in an area that had few businesses in the past.
Given what’s happening now, Fosdick said, “We’re going to have to reach out to those local businesses, and we want to be a support to them. I would just encourage people to be hopeful and patient.”
She said there are options on the horizon that will take time and money.
Fosdick said thankfully, $40 million in local bond money and federal funding will go toward creating “permanent supportive housing” for those with disabilities and mental health issues.
But for now, Fosdick said there is a community-wide effort trying to address the overall issue.
Fosdick said, “That includes hospitals, police, the city of San Antonio and local non-profits like CAM that are striving to make a difference in these people’s lives and recognize that it impacts not just those who are experiencing homelessness, but neighbors and businesses, too.”
Smoke BBQ+SKYBAR being among the first to open on the near East Side, Gomez said new business owners can take it from him.
“You’ve got to give them the benefit of the doubt and you have to treat them with respect,” Gomez said. “These are people just like us. And when you build that relationship with them, it makes, it makes the coexisting a lot easier.”