Editor's note: This story was updated to include comment from Integral Care.

A third-party assessment of Austin-area homeless services has been canceled after reduced involvement from some entities involved in the process, and following hesitations about the plan expressed by community members and local officials.

What happened

On Feb. 22, interim City Manager Jesús Garza announced that a proposed $1.35 million review of Austin, Central Health and Integral Care's homeless strategy by consultant McKinsey & Co. would be shelved following weeks of debate.

"Given the changes in participation among the partners, I have concluded that the conditions for the assessment have changed such that we cannot achieve the communitywide impact originally envisioned. As a result, it has become difficult to define a successful scope, so we will not be proceeding with the contract," Garza wrote in a memo to City Council members.

The update comes less than two weeks after Garza told city officials that the analysis was expected to move ahead "in a collaborative and cooperative manner" between the partners.

The context

The McKinsey-led initiative came about following months of discussion between Austin, Central Health, Integral Care and Travis County regarding a deep dive into their "strategies, programs and services" tied to homelessness, according to the city.

The project had first been budgeted at $2 million to be split between the four entities; Austin was set to take the lead with a $1 million share. However, county officials voted against funding any of the evaluation in January, while Integral Care and Central Health's initial portions were each reduced.

Some city officials and residents also questioned the merits of the plan, its price tag and McKinsey's involvement. At the same time, others stressed Austin's need for a high-level look into its spending on homelessness and related outcomes.

Read the original scope of work for the McKinsey review here.

What they're saying

Although this year's proposed review broke down, those involved still stressed the importance of collaboration on homelessness and the potential to circle back for another attempt in the future.

For now, Mayor Kirk Waston says he still believes an outside look at Austin's homeless strategy is "essential" even after the latest plan fell apart.

“From the first meeting of the various entities, there was universal agreement that there is work that needs to be done to better coordinate our homeless services and that we would be better off working together and collectively," he said in a statement. "This multientity review is essential to examine how we as a community can provide the best services for our unhoused neighbors and aren’t squandering resources."

Central Health board Chair Ann Kitchen said the county hospital district is still seeking local partnerships on homelessness and other health care matters.

"While the contract with McKinsey & Company Inc. isn’t moving forward, Central Health welcomes all opportunities to share with others the work we do as a health care provider and funder for low-income Travis County residents, including those experiencing homelessness," she said in a statement. "We remain committed to ensuring those services are optimally aligned and coordinated with the efforts of the city of Austin, Travis County, Integral Care, and all stakeholders and participants in the local continuum of care that helps our neighbors meet their needs as they work to exit homelessness."

County officials also shared their desire to pursue cooperative efforts going forward.

"The Travis County Commissioners Court remains committed to coordinating and aligning strategies for our unhoused neighbors through a collaborative and transparent process. Providing safe, stable housing and resources for our unhoused population is of the upmost importance. We will continue working with our partners at the city of Austin, Central Health, Integral Care and other stakeholders to accomplish these goals." county spokesperson Hector Nieto said in a statement.

An Integral Care representative echoed calls for collective efforts on homelessness.

"From the beginning, Integral Care expressed an interest in collaborating with the City, County and Central Health on improving services to those experiencing homelessness. We understand that the City is not proceeding with the recently proposed contract but trust that we will move forward together in strengthening our collective efforts to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring," Integral Care spokesperson Kathleen Casey said.

Council member Ryan Alter had been more skeptical of the original framework and had asked Garza for further council consideration before it was set to move forward. After the Feb. 22 update, he said he also supports a review—but that more agreement on a plan would be needed.

"Today, I'm pleased that the interim city manager heard our concerns and recognized that we currently lack the broad support necessary for this effort to be successful. It is my hope that the city can work with this same group of partners in the coming months to accomplish the original goal of identifying gaps and overlaps in our efforts and build the trust necessary to collectively solve our homeless challenge," he said in a statement.

The McKinsey process had also been criticized by some homeless advocates, who said the money would be better spent on serving the unhoused community and had asked to call it off.

"It's great that the Council made the decision to cancel the McKinsey contract because now we can spend that money on homeless services like case managers, support services and permanent supportive housing," Vernon Jarmon, a leader with the organizing and activist coalition VOCAL-TX, said Feb. 22.

What's next

While the McKinsey-led effort won't be advancing through the spring, Watson said he still believes an evaluation is necessary. He added that he hopes to see more participation among stakeholders after the original review fell apart given the stakes, and city resources, involved.

"There was ... agreement on purpose and on the process for the scope from the outset. But some jurisdictions are no longer open to the more collaborative review, which has made it difficult to put together the scope this effort needs," he said. "It also robs the public of the evaluation we need when we’re spending this enormous amount of money to address those living homeless. And it is a tremendous amount of money. It deserves a thorough, proper, independent review. No one should fear the findings when we’re talking about people’s lives and taxpayer dollars.”

Garza also said Austin should revisit planning for a homeless services evaluation soon.

"I do want to reiterate my continued support for having a comprehensive review conducted along with the above-mentioned partners," he wrote. "The months of good work among representatives with all four entities to help define the scope of the assessment serve as a solid foundation to help us—together—determine a path going forward on our mutual purpose to make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring."