Steven Lax looks out a window at a residential care facility in San Francisco. Photo: Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle

Open Forum: Save San Francisco’s board-and-care homes — and then fix them

Mayor London Breed and three supervisors last week announced a plan to stabilize privately run adult residential facilities, known as board-and-care homes, to prevent yet more people with psychiatric disabilities from becoming homeless. While these stopgap measures are crucial, it is important for the mayor and the Board of Supervisors to recognize that such facilities are not always the humane mom-and-pop residences portrayed in recent media coverage.

Often, board-and-cares are for-profit human warehouses guilty of what one scholar bitterly described as “privatized malign neglect.”

As sociologists who study outpatient psychiatric teams in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, we have seen firsthand the risks of delegating these public-safety-net functions to poorly regulated private industry. If San Francisco is serious about addressing mental health and homelessness, now is the time to consider not just saving a few facilities but also creating a comprehensive system that is smart, financially sustainable and committed to human dignity.

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