After Assistant City Manager Danielle Singh warned that refusing to extend a consultant’s contract would doom a months-long plan to reduce homelessness in the city, Killeen City Council members reluctantly approved the request.
“We have not set up a nonprofit like this,” she said during a council meeting on Tuesday. “We’ve never attempted to address homelessness in this way. If city staff is doing this, we’re going to be doing it by trial and error and we’re not going to be doing it correctly every step of the time because we’re going to be learning as we go. I don’t think this is setting us up for success if we don’t move forward with this.”
For nearly 30 minutes, Singh fielded questions primarily from council members Nina Cobb, Mayor Pro Tem Ken Wilkerson and Michael Boyd — many of which were answered in discussions about Robert Marbut’s homelessness and mental-health strategic plan in February, when council members adopted it.
In a 6-0 decision on Tuesday, with Riakos Adams not available remotely during the vote, council members amended the interlocal agreement with Marbut to pay him an additional $40,000 through a contract extension.
The “original agreement set the maximum amount of expenditures from (Temple and Killeen) at $50,000,” according to a staff report. “(On Feb. 14), City Council adopted the homelessness and mental-health strategic plan. Staff from both cities have determined additional services from the consultant are necessary as implementation begins.”
But Wilkerson said he’s not willing to approve further contract extensions.
“I understand we hired him on for the plan,” he said. “At some point, we have to run that plan and I think it would have been a better thing — and I think we can still do this — to recognize someone within the city that is going to be the homelessness czar or whatever ... to carry out that plan.”
Last year, Temple and Killeen approved the interlocal agreement that set the initial cost for Marbut Consulting of San Antonio to $88,742.98, with the cities paying $44,371.49 apiece. The amended agreement is a six-month contract extension with Marbut to “operationalize” the strategic plan “at the additional cost of $40,000,” or $20,000 per city.
“If we extend this $20,000, where are we going to be in six months?” Wilkerson said. “Are we then going to be looking for somebody to run the plan again? I think that will get (us) into a cyclical spiral. What exactly in the six months time that we’re extending Dr. Marbut will he be doing that no on else in Killeen can do?”
The extension allows Marbut to help both cities create Arbor of Hope — the central component to “Operation: RISE,” the plan that calls for Killeen, Temple and Bell County to provide funding to build two campuses — one in each city — for those experiencing homelessness. Called Arbor of Hope, the nonprofit organization would include representation from the county and both cities.
‘Most critical pieces’
“First thing we need to do is ... set up the nonprofit,” Singh said. “The Arbor of Hope, that is really one of the most critical pieces going forward. It’s making sure we get that structure right and making sure we have our existing nonprofits ... outlined in the correct tracks, as we’ve been calling them. We really look at the next six months of being critical.”
For months, Marbut has conducted street-level and other research across Bell County, including in Killeen and Temple, to provide snapshots of the homeless population in both cities. He made his final presentation to the Killeen City Council on Feb. 7.
“The good news is you’re doing very well compared to Temple and other parts of Central Texas,” Marbut told City Council members during that workshop meeting. “We have 15 recommendations divided into four (sections). The first is you have to have very specialized clinical tracks.”
The clinical tracks include visitor growth, early intervention, males and females experiencing homelessness locally, “intensive” mental-health and substance-use disorder treatment, “sober living,” veterans, “disconnected” former military dependents and “long-term supportive care.”
Marbut found that almost 16% of the homeless population in Killeen were born in Bell County. Almost 42% had jobs in Bell County before experiencing homelessness, and nearly 65% started experiencing homelessness in Bell County.
“We’ve got to turn off the increase,” Marbut said on Feb. 7. “If you don’t stop increasing homelessness here, you’ll have a problem in that in seven to nine years, you can’t afford the solution. It will become so cost-prohibitive to fix that.”
In Killeen, the average age of the homeless is 47.6, and they spend almost 13 years in homelessness. Just over 60% are males and almost 19% are veterans.
Marbut has said that Centex ARC, Hilltop Recovery Services and Virtue Recovery Center would be incorporated into the total plan to reduce homelessness.
“Using national best practices and the ‘Seven Guiding Principles of Homeless Transformation’ as the key measuring tools, Marbut Consulting evaluated the current state of homeless service operations within Killeen and ... an extensive survey of people experiencing homelessness,” according to Operation: RISE. “Marbut Consulting then conducted a needs assessment and gaps analysis between existing inventory and identified needs, including the types of services (qualitative) and capacity of services (quantitative) needed (in) Killeen and Temple.”
Marbut’s work in both cities began in April. Operation: RISE includes details about how Marbut conducted his research on homelessness in Killeen, Temple and Bell County, the site visits and tours he and others completed, how funding sources should be identified to support the plan and the same statistical data on homelessness in Killeen he’s presented three times to the City Council.
“After we get that nonprofit set up, it would be the nonprofit running things,” Signh said on Tuesday. “So we plan on hiring through that nonprofit staff dedicated to running this. We’ve talked to the city of Temple about this and what their plan would be if we did not move forward with approving this tonight. They have indicated that they are going to go ahead with Dr. Marbut’s contract and extending that.”
Such a development would have created a “balance of power,” Singh said.
“It’s not that we’re intending to have him do everything, but we do feel that we need that professional advice in moving us forward,” she said. “(Temple) had already set up a structure on that side of the county where they were meeting and agencies were flocking to them because they were organized. I suspect that will happen again.”
However, Marbut should have prepared the City Council for the possible contract extension and why it is necessary, Wilkerson said.
‘It’s just concerning’
“I’m just wondering: Where is Dr. Marbut in this that we can’t potentially do this without sacrificing the $20,000?” he said. “If he’s going to be there for them — unless it’s proprietary in what he’s doing, which I think should have been part of the plan — it’s just concerning. I understand we don’t always have the expertise on staff to take care of these things, but I don’t feel that this is significant enough to warrant the extension.”
Cobb agreed, arguing with Singh that continuing to work with Marbut isn’t necessary.
“He gave us our foundation,” she said. “I’ve worked as a nurse in this community for a long time and I’ve heard the whispers. But I surely believe that the nonprofits and the professionals that we have leading some of these coalitions will work. And just think: He’s right down the street in Temple. I truly believe a city (that) has paid him well and following his wishes, at any given time we get stuck, we should be able to ask him one question.”
Singh rejected that suggestion.
“That’s not how this will be set up,” she said. “Essentially, what that’s doing is asking him to work for free.”
‘Differ with you’
But Cobb pressed her assertion that Marbut is no longer needed.
“I always love your opinion, Mrs. Singh, but I’m going to differ with you tonight,” she said. “I’m going to differ with you because of the homeless coalition and the notes and the minutes and the people who are working who are dear to this city and to the flight of the homeless. I’m going to go with that decision on trusting his blueprint and his foundation.”
It’s not clear to what “homeless coalition” Cobb was referring.
“But ma’am, with all due respect, I’m not sure who, then, the council thinks expects to move this forward,” Singh said. “Our existing staff is already tasked with their day-to-day work. So I’m not sure how this moves us forward. The way this has worked in the past is that community members have all gone their own way and tried to step up, and we’ve gotten nowhere. If we do the same thing, I expect that to happen again.”
‘We’ve come this far’
Councilman Ramon Alvarez said that council members must finish what they started.
“I share some of the same concerns but at the same time, I don’t want our staff to fail,” he said. “So I hear what you’re saying, and you’re sitting here telling us that this is what you need in order to accomplish the mission we sent you out on. At this point, we’ve come this far and to put this into the hands of nobody — I don’t think does anybody justice or is being fiscally responsible with the money that we’ve spent to this point.”
Asking about how the Arbor of Hope board will be comprised — an issue Singh addressed in February — Segarra said that “we do need to finish this up.”
“We task our staff to do something, and we know that there’s a cost associated with it,” he said. “I know $20,000 can be a lot of money but when you look at the overall picture of what we’re trying to do, I think it’s minuscule. I’m very optimistic this is going to work. We’ve been going in circles for many years. We need to try something that’s really going to make a difference.”
Singh repeated the same explanation on how Arbor of Hope would be formed as she did on Feb. 14.
“The overarching board is going to have representatives from the city of Temple and the city of Killeen, as well as Bell County” so that other nonprofits working with Arbor of Hope “go in the same direction.”
Then, Boyd circled back to Cobb’s and Wilkerson’s suggestion that staff complete the work Marbut started.
“I’ve heard from citizens who expressed concerns for an extension and also a little confusion as to how the city’s not able to produce a nonprofit or coordinate one,” he said. “So I did want to communicate that. Why wasn’t this particular objective not included in the development of the strategic plan?”
Singh said that’s because “we didn’t know what the outcome of this strategic plan was going to be.”
“We first needed to gather data, figure out what was needed to address that,” she said. “Out of that came the nonprofit. It’s not something we could have written in at first because we didn’t know that was needed.”
Boyd then asked about the staff’s ability to build Arbor of Hope.
“It looks like Temple will be working with the consultant, who will ultimately be writing their portion of it,” Singh said. “And then you’ve got city of Killeen staff whose also trying to get the (Community Development Block Grant) plan out and we’re trying the best we can to meet with all these agencies and assign them tasks.”
‘Not what we do’
Other than that, Killeen officials cannot do what Marbut has recommended, Singh said.
“Honestly, I don’t know how we would physically do it because with Temple working with the consultant, you’ve got somebody who’s got a very high level of expertise, and then you’ve got our city staff,” she said. “While very talented, this is not what we do. This is a new thing. Quite frankly, I think it falls apart.”
Councilwoman Jessica Gonzalez said that Killeen should host a “summit” to explain to residents how Operation: RISE will be implemented with Temple, and Wilkerson continued to stress that the council’s patience with Marbut is limited.
“I guess this is somewhat of an education as we continue to go on with this discussion,” he said. “It’s not a lack of faith in staff or anything like that. We asked for this. I’m very cognitive of the fact that this is a good plan. My major concern is that we get six months down the road and we come back and (staff) says, ‘Well, we still don’t know how to do this. We’re not homelessness people.’ And then you turn around and ask for another extension.”
‘Keep going to the well’
A one-time extension should be sufficient, Wilkerson said.
“I think I’m going to support it — almost with the warning that this can’t happen again,” he said. “We can’t get here six months (from) now and keep giving this guy $20,000. He was hired on to give us a plan, he gave us a plan and now we’re hiring him to run the plan. It’s not going to sit well with me or the people sitting out here if we keep going to the well.”
Mayor Debbie Nash-King offered her perspective.
“The homeless is a part of our population, and I think our council can agree we want the best for the homeless population,” she said. “I can also understand the concerns of the council. If there was a nonprofit who knew how to start up a homeless nonprofit, we would have already had it by now. We do need to move forward with this.”
The city has a homeless shelter — Friends in Crisis in north Killeen — run by the nonprofit Families in Crisis.
Gohyde, would you please share some specific examples, I know nothing about the consultant, however I am skeptical of the council's ability to make competent choices
Robert Marbut is a snake oil salesman. He rejects actual studies about what works and pushes regressive ideas about homelessness. None of his prior projects (often also called arbor of hope or some other obnoxious title) have shown meaningful results. And his "research" is mostly just spending a few days inside shelters and on street corners with his mind made up already about what he wants to push. It's embarrassing that people give this guy a platform, let alone money.
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