by Susie Steimle and Abigail Sterling

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — They’re a haven for mentally ill and elderly people living on the streets of San Francisco but, as KPIX first reported last spring, mom and pop board and care homes are a dying breed in the city.

Officials from different departments at City Hall are now joining forces to save them.

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It can’t happen soon enough for residents at a home run by Domingo and Carmen Palarca. Tom Gray is one of them.

Every morning, when Gray gets, up his handwritten note taped on the dresser is a reminder: “There’s always a way, don’t take anything personally.”

Gray suffers from severe depression that landed him on the street for 20 years. One day, after a trip to the hospital, he lucked out. “They got me off the streets and they fixed me up with this place,” said Gray.

He now lives in a residential board and care home for people with mental illness as well as disabled seniors.

“I don’t have to worry about sleeping out there in the cold (or) people coming up to me disturbing me in the middle of the night,” Gray said.

But Gray’s luck might be changing again. His home is set to close this year. It is part of a growing trend. As KPIX reported in May, the number of residential-care facilities in San Francisco has plummeted, from 70 to 37, in just the past five years.

In an interview in May, the Department of Health’s Kelly Hiramoto, who runs placement for the board and care program, stated: “I think it’s sad. I don’t know if I would call it a crisis.”

Fast forward a few months and the tune has changed at City Hall. Mayor London Breed signed a new budget which includes $1 million to keep residential care homes open to address the homeless crisis. Unfortunately, when you break it down, a million dollars isn’t nearly enough.

“You know, we are not making anything!” said Carmen Palarca. Carmen and her husband Domingo run Gray’s home.

It’s a full time job preparing medications, cooking and cleaning for ten clients. The new money in the budget increases the so-called patch payment the Palarcas receive from the city to just over $20 per client per day — a fifty-cent raise.

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The Palarcas say they are getting too old for this. Carmen is 77 and Domingo is 86. Recently, they brought their issues to supervisor Norman Yee.

“We are losing ground. We need to do something about it,” Yee said.

Supervisor Yee gathered a work group to tackle the issue.

“Right now I’m thinking about two strategies. Not only to stop the bleeding of people closing down but how do we even reverse it to bring it back up,” Yee said.

Yee says that different departments which deal with homelessness and housing aren’t collaborating.

“A lot of time departments focus on the primary mission and sometimes things get lost along the line,” Yee said.

“We are already working more together,” said Roland Pickens, who is Kelly Hiramoto’s boss.

When asked if he thinks the closure of the homes is a crisis, Pickens said “I think it’s a concern because board and care homes are a vital part of the healthcare continuum. That is why this influx of money through the mayor’s office will be of help. But, again, it’s just a start. It’s incumbent on all of us to figure out with them how can we make this financially sustainable.”

Back at the Palarca home, Tom Gray has been reading all about the new mayor’s pledge.

“I read that she is going to help the homeless,” Gray said. He hopes the city’s reversal on this issue means he’ll remain housed.

But the Palarcas say the pledge doesn’t pay the bills and the home is scheduled to close, meaning Gray is at risk of being back out on the street.

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Supervisor Yee put together what is now known as the Assisted Living Facility Workgroup of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council of San Francisco. In its second meeting the work group reviewed the research completed in the last month. Next month, the work group will begin developing strategies and recommendations for the City to tackle this important issue.  You can learn more about what the work group is doing at