Northeast Tarrant

Homelessness emerges as issue in Hurst council race

Most homeless camp, such as this one, are in Fort Worth, but Hurst city council candidates say they are starting to see homeless people in their parks.
Most homeless camp, such as this one, are in Fort Worth, but Hurst city council candidates say they are starting to see homeless people in their parks. Star-Telegram archives

Issues such as code enforcement and economic development usually dominant political conversations in Hurst.

But several candidates running for City Council say they’d like for the city to be more involved with the homeless who have drifted into this Northeast Tarrant County suburb.

Nine candidates are vying for spots on four council seats. The election is Saturday.

Two of the seats became open after incumbents Trasa Robertson Cobern (Place 4) and Nancy Welton (Place 7) did not seek re-election. Henry Wilson resigned from Place 6 and is running unopposed in the mayor’s race. Cobern stepped down to run in the Republican primary for for Tarrant County Tax Assessor, but did not make the runoff.

There are more than 1,900 homeless people in Tarrant County, according to an annual count done by the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. While most live in shelters, the count shows that 17 percent live in outdoor encampments, parks, streets and sidewalks.

Fort Worth has the most homeless people (83 percent), followed by Arlington (13 percent) and Northeast Tarrant County (3.5 percent).

Place 4

In the Place 4 race, Jessica Martin, 34, said that when she recently organized a “trash bash” in one of the city parks, she and other volunteers came across a homeless encampment.

Jessica Martin
Jessica Martin Damien Monk Courtesy

“We found blankets and bedding...” she said.

“There is evidence of homelessness in our parks. I am on the parks and rec board,and I report what we’ve found to police,” said Martin, who ios running for the first time. “If we have a program to deal with homelessness and mental illness in Hurst, and once we form a trusting relationship with them, they will take the help and shelter we offer them.”

Martin said the city also needs to focus on redevelopment, bringing in new businesses and increasing police presence.

Cathy Butler Thompson is challenging Martin in Place 4.

Butler Thompson, 65, a retired teacher from the Birdville school district, said she wants to get more information on homelessness in the Hurst area.

“It is a national issue and a national problem that is not unique to Hurst,” she said.

Thompson added that she wants to focus on continuing the revitalization work that has already started in south Hurst.

“The ciyt is doing a great job on attracting businesses like the Corner Bakery in south Hurst,” she said.

Place 5

In the Place 5 race, incumbent Bill McLendon is facing a challenge from Jeff Childers.

Jeff Childers
Jeff Childers Courtesy

Childers, 47, said his priorities include looking at energy options for Hurst such as solar and wind power.

“I don’t see a far-reaching vision for Hurst,” Childers said.

Childes would also like to for Hurst to expand shopping technology with retail such as an Amazon Go store, revamp parks so that they appeal to children in their early teens and create bike trails.

Bill McLendon
Bill McLendon BluDoor Studios Courtesy

McLendon said if he is re-elected, he wants to make sure that Hurst has the best police and fire protection available and to continue working on revitalization and maintaining the city’s parks.

“I will make wise decisions so that Hurst will continue to prosper and be a great city,” he said.

Place 6

In Place 6, Jon McKenzie and Jeffrey Barnes are running to replace Wilson, who is unopposed in the mayor’s race.

Barnes, 46, a senior software engineer for Game Stop said that he has volunteered for the Citizens Police Academy and served on the Neighborhood Community Advisory Committee.

Jeffery Barnes
Jeffrey Barnes Courtesy

If elected, Barnes said he wants to look at issues like high water rates and apartment inspections.

“As we continue to address issues in apartment complexes, these are our residents. It is important that we are making these neighborhoods safe. We are slowly going to improve these complexes by holding them to standards,” he said.

McKenzie, 39, a minister at Bridgewood Church of Christ in Fort Worth, said he is running because he wants to continue the work of previous councils and to ensure Hurst remains a “great place to live.”

McKenzie said his top priorities are making wise decisions on controlled growth since Hurst is 98 percent built out.

Jon McKenzie
Jon McKenzie Courtesy

McKenzie said he also wants to make sure police have all of the resources they need to keep the big city problems out of Hurst.

On homelessness, McKenzie said the city needs to make sure resources are in place.

“As Fort Worth pushes them out of camps downtown the numbers are increasing in Hurst and on the east side of Fort Worth,” McKenzie said. “I’m looking at code enforcement and I want to make sure police have resources for dealing wiht this new issue in Hurst.”

Place 7

In the Place 7 race, Chad Householder, Howard Shotwell, and Cindy Shepard are running for the first time.

Like Martin, Shepard said she wants to increase awareness about homelessness and the need for more people to get involved in finding solutions.

Cindy Shepard Lisa Torres Courtesy

“I think people want to get help,” she said. “I didn’t realize there were homeless people in our area until I started seeing them in our parks”.

Shepard, 63, who retired from American Airlines to become an artist, wants to encourage people to get involved wiht non-profits.

Her other priorities include concerns about legislators taking local control away from cities, developing the Artison Theater as a cultural destination and working on revitalization.

Shotwell, 75, said although this is his first time to run, he has years of experience and serves on the planning and zoning board and also served on the parks and recreation board.

Howard Shotwell
Howard Shotwell Courtesy

“There will be three new council members,” Shotwell said. “My fear is that if we don’t have someone with commitment and experience, we don’t have time for a learning curve.”

Hurst has a large senior population, he said. Shotwell added that he wants to continue with redevelopment efforts and look at water rates.

Householder, 46, a fleet administrator for Consolidated Electrical Distributors said he volunteered for several years and took a class called Hurst 101 before deciding to run for office.

Householder said he is pleased with the improvements in south Hurst with the arrival of Planet Fitness and Corner Bakery and wants to continue working to bring in new businesses.

Chad Householder
Chad Householder Courtesy

“It’s cool to go to Planet Fitness and the Artisan Theater. The parking lot used to be empty. Crime has gone down there because there are more people walking around,” he said.

But Householder said he wants to see more transparency in terms of getting explanations of high water bills and on bringing city council meetings to residents by using Facebook Live.

Elizabeth Campbell: 817-390-7696, @fwstliz