Filling the void: Southside’s only bookstore

In April 2016, Kenny Johnson opened Dead Tree Books at 5645 S. Flores St., Suite 105. PHOTOS BY JOSE ARREDONDO / FOLO MEDIA

Taquerias, flea markets, fruterias, public parks, stray dogs and Spanish missions are easy to find in the Southside. A general bookstore, not so much.

The only one is Dead Tree Books, which occupies an old one-story retail building on the busy intersection of South Flores Street and East Southcross Boulevard.

Longtime bookworms Kenny and Lisa Johnson always envisioned opening up a store. That dream evolved into reality April 2016, when Kenny used a retirement program offered at Walmart, where he worked for 30 years, to launch the store.

“We want books to be available for anyone,” Kenny said. “Our goal is to have people walk out of this store with an armful of books.”

Listening In: Dee Dee Sedgwick on the home repair ministry that’s fixing roofs and lives

Photo: JOSE ARREDONDO / FOLO MEDIA

Dee Dee Sedgwick, right, executive director of Blueprint Ministries, speaks about the work her nonprofit does to help repair roofs and substandard housing in San Antonio’s most impoverished areas. The ministry, the largest of its kind in San Antonio, relies mostly on high school student volunteers throughout Texas. “There’s an opportunity to show these kids what life is like beyond their gated community, if I can say that without offending,” Sedgwick said.

East Side residents unite against violence

Oscar L. Dean Sr., pastor of Corner Gate Christian Church, leads a prayer at the end of a meeting on East Side violence Sunday night at The Lemuel Smith Christian Center. JOSE ARREDONDO / FOLO MEDIA

East Side residents packed the Lemuel Smith Christian Center, 102 Hub Ave., on Sunday to address fatal violence and to create solutions to reclaim their community.

The meeting is the first of many monthly meetings to come for the East Side community, according to meeting organizer Alvin “Big Al” Gertman, who cuts hair at Divine Edge Barber Shop.

“I’m tired of doing fundraisers and barbecue sales to help someone bury their loved one,” Gertman said as he gripped the microphone in the warm compact building. “Enough is enough.”

Dignowity Hill residents show support for homeless services

Chris Plauche of the Catholic Worker House discusses the lack of funding to properly serve the mentally ill that come through the ministry at a meeting Thursday night at the Ella Austin Community Center. WALLY PEREZ / FOLO MEDIA

Dignowity Hill residents and reps from some of the homeless ministries in the area met Thursday night to discuss vagrancy issues. Some residents have complained about some homeless relieving themselves in public, fighting and trespassing.

However, a majority of residents who attended the discussion at the Ella Austin Community Center said they should take on a larger responsibility in helping the homeless.

Dignowity Hill residents, homeless centers to discuss vagrancy issues at roundtable

Walter White (left) and Brad Britt — both 50 and homeless — hang out Wednesday at a park next to The Salvation Army Dave Coy Social Service Center, 226 Nolan St. PHOTOS BY BRIANNA RODRIGUE / SPECIAL TO FOLO MEDIA

A discussion titled “Dignowity Dialogue — Homelessness” will be held 6 p.m. tonight (July 20) at Ella Austin Community Center, 1023 N. Pine St. This is not an official meeting of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association.

An influx of gentrifiers into the near-East Side neighborhood of Dignowity Hill in recent years means not only new faces, but new voices and concerns in an urban area known partly for its homeless population and the organizations that assist them.

The residents complain that some of the homeless who frequent the neighborhood’s five social services centers — located closer to downtown’s edge — relieve themselves in public, trespass and engage in noisy arguments and fist fights.

Some of the residents are calling for the relocation of the services out of the neighborhood. Others want to open a line of communication with the centers and the population they serve.

Brian Dillard, president of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, has scheduled a roundtable discussion with the five area homeless ministries and nonprofits for tonight. The roundtable is not an official event of the association.

A changed perspective: San Antonio’s more than downtown

Broadway is due to receive $42 million in bond upgrades in the coming years. WENDI POOLE / SPECIAL TO FOLO MEDIA

In my past journalistic life as a blogger and columnist at the San Antonio Express-News, I wrote quite a bit about downtown and its abutting neighborhoods. Living downtown, working downtown, writing about downtown, I became obsessed with downtown.

Far from my mind in my downtown writing days was the rest of the city.

Listening In: How Johnny Williams, AT&T Center janitor, ‘toughed it out’

Johnny Williams, a janitor at the AT&T Center, talks about the “checkpoints” in his living room on the East Side. PHOTOS BY JOSE ARREDONDO / FOLO MEDIA

For eight years, Johnny Williams has worked as a janitor at the AT&T Center, near his East Side home. Folo Media Editor in Chief Patton Dodd talked with Williams recently about the series of “checkpoints” in his life — little encounters he says that are signs from God that tell him he’s on the right path. With the help of a ministry that helped repair his home, he’s found stability.

Local churches step up to face foster care crisis

John Wilhelm, program director for 4KIDS of South Texas, presents information about the group during a meeting this week at Grace Point Church West. WENDI POOLE / SPECIAL TO FOLO MEDIA

A 3-year-old girl carries a Peppa Pig backpack around the Williams house everywhere she goes — she even sleeps with it at night, Celine Williams says. She puts as many of her things as possible in it so she can keep them close.

In May, the child was given the backpack by South Texas Alliance for Orphans, a foster and adoption ministry associated with Grace Point Church on the Northwest side, after she and her four siblings were dropped off at the Williamses house by Child Protective Services.

Celine and Lionel Williams both work full time and have five biological children — four of them are older than 20 and have moved out of the house.

Yet, within six hours of receiving the call from CPS, the Williamses were preparing their home to take in the little girl and her four siblings, who range in age from 7 months to 8 years old.

Families from Grace Point responded just as quickly. They brought high chairs and booster seats, plug covers and nail clippers — items to help with the transition.

SAY Sí artists are equal to the task of depicting inequality

Visitors gather around “Human Geography” on Friday night during the opening night of SAY Sí’s “Stories Seldom Told: Less than Equal.” The piece presented dropout data, student population and average real estate prices across San Antonio’s school districts and ZIP codes. BEN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

When you enter SAY Sí’s exhibit “Stories Seldom Told: Less Than Equal,” you’re handed a piece of paper with a ZIP code on it. On Friday night, I was randomly assigned 78263, which put me in the East Central Independent School District.

Everything I experienced in the exhibit was determined by the ZIP code I was given.

In SAY Sí’s black box theater, guests with ZIP codes from upscale areas were granted up-front and spacious seating. Those with ZIP codes from low-income areas were directed to enter through the back entrance; they walked through a metal detector and were wanded by a police officer played by Ren Alvarez, 15, a sophomore at Stevens High School.

When the city doles out SAWS development waivers, affordable housing gets the ‘scraps,’ builders say

Habitat for Humanity volunteers and staff recently place part of a home’s lattice in the Lenwood Heights community. Last year, the West Side development received a portion of $335,000 in SAWS impact fee waivers that was awarded to the nonprofit. BEN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

Editor’s Note: The description of how the SAWS fee waivers for the ICRIP program is allocated was incorrect in the original version of this story. Also, this story has been updated to reflect that an across-the-board waiver of SAWS fees for affordable housing could be considered by City Council as early as this fall.

The housing commission requested that $1.2 million be set aside for affordable housing developments, but the request never made the city’s budgeting process. Instead, CCDO created a new rule that allowed for half of the ICRIP waivers to be set aside for affordable housing and nonprofit projects such as charter schools or if Goodwill wanted to build a facility; the other half would be reserved for other types of projects such as commercial.

If you’re trying to build affordable housing beyond the downtown area, obtaining incentives from the city of San Antonio may prove difficult.

That’s because San Antonio lacks an incentives policy for affordable housing, and the city’s housing commission is trying to fix that.

The 15-member commission argues that affordable housing projects outside the center city aren’t getting their fair share of $3 million in “impact fee waivers” set aside by the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) every year. These funds cover the cost of infrastructure upgrades necessary to provide service to a new development.

For a developer, receiving such waivers can mean a savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The problem for affordable housing developers is that a sizable chunk of the $3 million has already been carved out for other projects (mainly downtown housing) before they’re able to apply for the waivers. Or, as one of the housing commissioners puts it: “affordable housing gets the scraps.”

This is how the waiver system works:

Students invite public into their stories of inequality

Sofia Rodriguez, 14, freshman at Harlan High School, and Korie Quinones, 14, freshman at Burbank High School, work together on finishing their installation titled “Human Geography” June 29 at SAY . The piece will debut during “Stories Seldom Told: Less than Equal,” an art exhibit focused on shedding light on inequality in high schools in San Antonio. WALLY PEREZ/FOLO MEDIA

“Stories Seldom Told: Less than Equal” opens 6-10 p.m. Friday at SAY Sí, 1518 S. Alamo St. Free.

Visitors at an upcoming art exhibit may discover what many San Antonio youth say they already know: inequality makes life feel like a maze.

The largest installation at the exhibit, which is hosted by the educational arts program SAY Sí, is a paper mache maze completely covered with copies of standardized tests.

According to Rick Stemm, SAY Sí’s new media instructor, the maze, titled “Scientia Potentia Est,” represents the gauntlet of tests students are forced through—tests which he says have no proven effectiveness.

People who enter the maze will be given navigation tools based on an assigned ZIP code. Some zip codes are given help and proper instruction on how to get through the maze; some are given incorrect instructions and are pushed out.

The future of the West Side rests in small hands

Lea Watson, director of Multi-level Education Outreach, sings with the children of Peace Camp at Divine Redeemer Presbyterian, 407 N. Calaveras St. BRIANNA RODRIGUE / SPECIAL TO FOLO MEDIA

On a recent Monday afternoon, four young children sit in the front a West Side church sanctuary and tie black pieces of cloth over their eyes. Four other children help them to their feet and guide their partners through the rows of pews, laughing, as they compete to reach a predetermined spot.

When the game is over they head back to the front of Divine Redeemer Presbyterian, where pastor Rob Mueller is waiting for them.

“What is the hardest part of helping your friends?” he asks after the children have taken their spots on the floor around him.

Mueller spends most of his summer in the church sanctuary with children from the neighborhood—many of whom are not church families—as part of its program Multi-level Education Outreach (MEYO).

The program is designed to improve the West Side by educating its children—a mission the church has been doing in one way or another since it was formed 101 years ago by a Mexican pastor who fled a violent civil war.

Neighborhoods are the focus of new city department

Veronica R. Soto will head the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department. COURTESY CITY OF SAN ANTONIO

The City of San Antonio recently formed a department that will manage the $20 million, bond-funded Urban Renewal Plan and the city’s housing programs — including Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships Program — and that will also focus on neighborhood engagement.

Heading the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department will be Veronica R. Soto, who previously served as director for the City of El Paso’s Community and Human Development Department. She begins July 10.

The Urban Renewal Plan is designed to remove blight and add affordable housing units to some of the more distressed parts of town. The city will use the $20 million — bond dollars approved by voters in May — to purchase properties, prepare the sites for development and then sell the land to a developer for affordable housing.

The new department will also engage communities when changes are proposed to their environments. Often, neighbors worry about character of their communities and have complained about not having enough input from the city, or a strong dialogue with the city.

Faces of San Antonio: Is poverty trauma?

The prayer room at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and Shrine, 1321 El Paso St., is visited by worshipers in this West Side neighborhood day and night. PHOTOS BY BEN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

Faces of San Antonio is an occasional series at Folo Media. Write to info@folomedia.org with ideas and suggestions.

After two years at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and Shrine, Father Bryan Christopher is leaving for Central America.

The statue of a gory, bloodied and crucified Jesus Christ, surrounded by more than 30 prayer candles and a Holy Water dispenser, is a popular place for residents of this West Side neighborhood day and night.

The shrine is located on the campus of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and Shrine on El Paso Street.

About three times a week, one woman will come to the statue and sing. Others sob or yell as they kneel down on a brown leather stool.

For two years, Father Bryan Christopher, a visiting Jesuit priest, slept in a room right above the statue.

A spiritual home in the spine of the West Side

Pastor Jesse Denny Jr. (front left) prays over the congregation at the West End Church of God in Christ on the West Side. JOSE ARREDONDO / FOLO MEDIA

Every Sunday at the 11 a.m. service of West End Church of God in Christ (WEC), the women of the church wear white gloves and hats, which complement their all-white, head-to-toe habits. The men dress in scrupulous suits.

WEC Pastor Jesse Denny Jr. stands shrouded in a black pulpit robe. He grips the Bible in his left hand and a microphone in his right as the church’s 15 congregants rise from the first two rows of aged wooden pews.

Love breeds fertility and growth in God, he tells them.

“Yes! That’s right! Come on pastor,” several sisters holler, clapping. “Amen! Amen!”

How Airbnb could hurt affordable housing—and how it could help

Homes on Pine Street in Dignowity Hill are currently being renovated. WALLY PEREZ / FOLO MEDIA

Short-term rentals like Airbnb are more popular than ever with tourists and property owners alike. But observers of this trend say short-term rentals (STRs) could be taking affordable housing units off the market when they are converted into Airbnbs—especially in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Now, San Antonio’s housing commission is looking at ways short-term rentals can fund affordable housing efforts.

The plan, tossed around by a subcommittee of the Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods, proposes a $2 fee for nightly Airbnb rentals that would generate about $400,000 in revenue a year for San Antonio, based on Airbnb’s rate of rentals in the city.

Are startups the answer to inequality?

A new study finds that Texas is among the national leaders in “economic dynamism.” That’s a technical term: it means businesses starting and closing, workers changing firms or moving to new opportunities. According to the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank and advocacy group in Washington, D.C., dynamism is a more illuminating measure of economic health than typical metrics like the unemployment rate.

In EIG’s new study, the Index of State Dynamism, Texas boasts the sixth most dynamic economy in the country. Most of the nation remains stagnant. The Great Recession may have ended in 2009, but the recovery has been snail-like, and the nation has never returned to pre-recession levels of economic activity. Only a few states—including Nevada, Utah, Florida, Colorado, North Dakota, and our Texas—show some bright spots.

As a research and policy shop, EIG’s focus is not just the business economy in general, but also inequality. (They also authored the Distressed Communities Index.) True to form, their new study contains insights for addressing poverty and inequality, namely that a big part of the answer to those challenges is an economy with more dynamism.

Inequality is complicated. Let’s talk about it.

Chris Carrillo, who grew up on the West Side, made it out of extreme poverty. Carrillo’s story was featured on The Source on Monday. JOSE ARREDONDO / FOLO MEDIA
Folo Media editor in chief Patton Dodd (left) appears on The Source on Monday. COURTESY PHOTO

Earlier today, Folo Media was privileged to be part of a broad conversation about San Antonio’s economic inequality on “The Source,” Texas Public Radio’s noontime program hosted by David Martin Davies.

Panelists included Folo’s Patton Dodd; Jackie Gorman, CEO of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE); Andrea Guajardo, chair of the Workforce Solutions Alamo board and regional director of community health for CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital System; and Gabriel Acevedo, Ph.D., associate professor at UTSA Department of Sociology.

Dodd and his fellow panelists held a wide-ranging conversation on many aspects of inequality, including race, jobs, education, workforce training, housing, and more.

Hear the program in its entirety here.

Eleven Weeks Hungry: Coach Pop, San Antonio Food Bank Issue Call for Support

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and San Antonio Food Bank president and CEO Eric Cooper talk about the increased need for donations this summer. DARCY SPRAGUE / FOLO MEDIA

San Antonio children whose families depend on school lunch for meals are facing a summer of hunger—even more so this summer than in years past, says the San Antonio Food Bank.

Last year in the first week of summer operation, the food bank served 15,000 meals. This year, the figure was 30,000.

Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, attributes the leap to changes to summer school programs in certain parts of town and to an overall increase in demand.

Why San Antonio has both high employment and high poverty

Sister Pearl Ceasar, executive director of Project QUEST, will be leaving the program after accepting a position as Superior General of the Congregation of Divine Providence. WALLY PEREZ / FOLO MEDIA

San Antonio doesn’t have an unemployment problem — people are working.

But many of its jobs don’t pay enough to lift low-income families out of poverty.

This is the opinion of the outgoing director of Project QUEST, San Antonio’s top workforce development nonprofit.

Project QUEST “does not believe that low-paying jobs are good jobs,” said Sister Pearl Ceasar, who leaves her post in the program on June 26 to become the Superior General of the Congregation of Divine Providence on the West Side.

“They keep you poor,” she added.

The data available supports Ceasar’s comment.

This week, tell San Antonio how to spend neighborhood dollars

The Calcasieu Apartments, 214 Broadway, is set to receive $812,500 in CDBG funds for its rehab. BEN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

Public meetings regarding $19 million in federal housing dollars will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, and Aug. 2 at City Hall Complex, 105 Main Plaza.

On Wednesday, and again on Aug. 2, taxpayers can weigh in on how the City of San Antonio will spend an anticipated $19 million in upcoming federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) earmarked for housing and neighborhood upgrades.

Should the appropriations process in Congress yield less than $19 million in entitlement funds for San Antonio, the city is prepared to cut back certain programs.

The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It’s justice

Bryan Stevenson at TED2012: Full Spectrum, February 27 - March 2, 2012. Long Beach, CA. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Here’s a sentence that’s been stuck in my head like a pop song hook: “The opposite of poverty is justice.” That comes from Bryan Stevenson, the death row lawyer and advocate for criminal justice reform. You may already be familiar with Stevenson, but if not you should give him your attention. His best-selling book, most-viewed Ted Talk and several engrossing interviews (like this one) reveal him to be a vital moral authority. Not just an advocate or public intellectual, but someone who can proclaim sharp moral truths and actually get a hearing.

I’ve pointed conservative and liberal friends alike to Stevenson, and both stand convicted by his incisive critique of American injustice. That’s moral authority—the ability to make us grapple with difficult ethical questions and consider how our lives might need to change in response.

FOLO THE STORY.

folo \ˈfä-(ˌ)lō\ noun. A story that follows up on an earlier report.

Folo Media reports on the challenges and opportunities for vulnerable communities in San Antonio, Texas, one of the most inequitable cities in the United States.