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City seeks McKinsey’s $2M analysis of programs to address homelessness

Thursday, January 18, 2024 by Chad Swiatecki

Consulting giant McKinsey & Company could take up another study of the city, specifically how four local bodies including Central Health are working to address homelessness throughout the Austin area.

At its meeting today, City Council will consider two items related to a proposed $2 million study that is expected to be delivered in the spring with findings and recommendations on how to improve programs related to reducing homelessness. An interlocal agreement with Central Health would spell out the terms and scope of that organization’s participation in the study and commit it to paying the city $400,000 toward the total cost.

McKinsey’s review would include an inventory of existing homelessness plans and a related needs assessment, a review of all city contracts related to homelessness services, an evaluation of knowledge gaps on the issue, and a report and implementation plan. The entire study is expected to be completed by the end of April.

Mayor Kirk Watson, who last year enlisted McKinsey to conduct a review of the city’s Development Services Department, said the review is needed to find ways to better coordinate efforts around health care services, the different forms of housing available for homeless people and other support services needed.

“All these governmental entities that are involved in this, we share a responsibility and a commitment to make sure we’re effectively working to end homelessness by actually improving collaboration and aligning our strategies and efforts,” he said. “This puts us in a situation where jointly we will have a comprehensive review and assessment of our current programs, our programs and our services, and the outcomes that we’re getting so that allows us to better evaluate our effectiveness.”

In November, the city moved to create a standalone Homeless Strategy Office led by David Gray, who took over the city’s homelessness strategy role shortly before the creation of that office.

Watson said the September move by Integral Care to lay off 10 percent of its staff showed that there are gaps in needed services that other local bodies need to fill, with the study intended to find those problem areas and identify solutions.

“That specific event was kind of a very clear example of what we all kind of know, which is that we’re all in this together,” he said, noting the collaboration with Central Health to look for ways to restore those positions and continue mental health services for vulnerable populations.

With the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs stepping forward this summer to provide $65 million toward housing and other services for the homeless, Watson said the action plan delivered in April could lead to more opportunities for the city to work with the state.

“We’ve designed this so that it creates a partnership and that it will help bring us together,” he said. “The expectation is that when you share a purpose, and that purpose is to make sure that homelessness is rarely occurring, and when it does occur, that we get people out of living homeless as rapidly as possible.”

In December, Central Health made a presentation to Council’s Public Health Committee that detailed the many components of its Continuum of Care for Unhoused Persons, including a recently launched respite care program that prevents homeless patients from making repeated trips to emergency rooms seeking medical treatment.

Central Health’s chief medical officer Alan Schalscha told committee members that the organization’s dozens of programs – including offering facilities with storage for belongings, pet care and detox treatment – were intended to make temporary shelters more accommodating for people without homes.

Related to the McKinsey study, Central Health Board Chair Ann Kitchen offered a prepared statement to the Austin Monitor: “Central Health, Integral Care, and the city and county work together now to help vulnerable residents, including those without stable housing, get the care, services, and support they need to heal and be healthy. This review offers information and an opportunity for us all to collaborate most effectively and leverage the community’s collective investment in our work.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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