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Union-Tribune Columnist Who Delved Into Homelessness Retires

Former San Diego Union-Tribune business columnist Dan McSwain on KPBS Roundtable on July 28, 2017.
KPBS Staff
Former San Diego Union-Tribune business columnist Dan McSwain on KPBS Roundtable on July 28, 2017.
Union-Tribune Columnist Who Delved Into Homelessness Retires
Union-Tribune Columnist Who Delved Into Homelessness Retires GUEST: Dan McSwain, former business columnist, The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego Union Tribune columnist has written a column after column. He shared he had his own brief period of homelessness but he will not cover the latest on the news on the tents because he wrote his final column announcing his retirement. He has not been afraid to take leaders to task and he wrote the city faces quote full-blown crisis of public health. This is an imperative of any functioning government. Joining me is the former business columnist. Welcome to the show. Thank you for having me. Why are you retiring? Well, the job.harder. I felt like I could not keep doing it at the high level to which I aspire. You know, when it comes to switching careers and doing something else or retiring, I would rather be early than late. You wrote that you were feeling a mental decline which doctors have said is likely not early onset with dementia or Alzheimer's. But how did that affect her work? What mistakes did you have? Back I had more corrections after material had been published. We have a correction section in it newspaper and the website. That has not happened to me very often in the past. I was also making errors with complicated calculations when I was trying to do analytical pieces. My ability to look at 10 year's worth of budgets and keep it in my head, you know, I have no I am not as smart as I was when I was 25. Hopefully I acquired the wisdom that offset the decline. With them is a coping strategy for normal the client but I was not able to perform at the top of my game like I used to. I thought now would be a good time to step aside and give somebody else a chance. You are leaving in the middle of the hepatitis A outbreak which has left 16 people dead. Did that make you twice? Back absolutely it did. My boss has me involved in the homelessness crisis a little more than a year ago. It has been almost a year and a half. They asked me to just look at the numbers. I do not usually write about homelessness and other city policy or government policy or social problems but they said you know what? Something is going on. Let's look at the money and the alarming increases and the numbers. You know, within a few weeks, I realized that San Diego is an outlier across the nation while other major cities have been able to reduce the populations. They are not as Honorable. San Diego has numbers that are soaring. This hepatitis outbreak, something like this was inevitable because we have not done nearly enough about this problem. But you are a managing editor before that Tribune bought it and that Tribune is owned by the trunk and the Chicago Tribune. How do you think areas outside, given all this consolidation? There is no nice way to say. The quality and quantity of our local news coverage has declined. When I first became managing editor for the news at the North County Times, we had nine different additions go into the Southwest Riverside County. As far south as tomorrow and we had a city hall reporter in every euro. We covered every city Council meeting in nine different cities. There is not that coverage anymore. Some of the gaps are filled in by neighborhood blogs. People are launching websites. Actually, we have a thriving community or in a system of community weekly newspapers but there is no substitute for daily journals -- journalism. Last week you said the city was spending lots of money and had well-intentioned people working on the homelessness crisis but that we liked high-level coordination. The city created a point person for homelessness and the County did also. Gordon Walker, you praise him in the comms. Have you seen anything change in the past year? Back absolutely. I do not want to diminish the positive changes I have seen. Large institutions are very difficult to change direction. You know, oil tanker analogy is very apt. I do see signs that we, as a community, are turning the oil tanker but it is very slow and gradual and incremental. I do not see the sort of bold and aggressive action that the situation requires in my view. We have not declared a homeless emergency. You know, the mayor office says we declared a shelter emergency in the last two years. Portland has declared a full-blown emergency that allows them to mobilize a bunch of resources in a very fast and effective way. And allows them to waive zoning obligations and to be able to build shelters quickly and to build permanent housing much more quickly and hopefully more cost-effectively. We are not doing those basic triage sort of measures that I think are overdue. How do you want to see your work follow? What are the stories you wish you had more time to tell? I think Sandy go journalism is doing a good job. We are slow in waking up to the severity of the album. This hepatitis A outbreak, it is all hands on deck. I see good coverage. I believe that the investigative work and the deep analytical work is really what we need. And in some ways, low hanging fruit. The County and the city puts together and spends hundreds of millions of dollars. Most of it is federal. Some of it is state and some of it is local on programs for the poor. A small sliver goes to the homeless people. I think there is a lot of opportunity to tell a story anyway that can change policy. That will you do in your retirement? I will support my partner and relaunching our career. We will do some traveling. Are you going to? I am going to Europe for her career. She has commitments over there. I am going to try my own writing, some fiction and nonfiction in long for. If that does not pan out, I will be back in a year or so, looking for my next gig pick I have been speaking with Dan McSwain . Thank you so much. Thank you.

In the midst of the county's hepatitis A outbreak, The San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Dan McSwain did not hesitate to take city of San Diego leaders to task. The city, he wrote, faces "full-blown crises of public safety and public health, the twin imperatives of any functioning government."

But even though officials have said they are redoubling their efforts downtown, McSwain will not be covering their responses. He announced his retirement Sunday, after noticing a mental decline, though his doctors said it appears to be part of the normal aging process.

McSwain has been on the business beat for years, covering the county's pension investments and the 2000 California power crisis. For the past year he has written column after column on the region's homelessness crisis which is not actually off-topic, he wrote in one of his first pieces in the series.

"The public has delegated the job of dealing with street people to government, which mostly relies on nonprofits to do the actual work — and nonprofits are businesses," he wrote. "So I’m naturally interested in whether anybody is measuring results or otherwise making sure all our tax dollars are being spent wisely."

RELATED: Q&A With New CEO Of San Diego County Homeless Task Force

Homelessness is also personal for McSwain. He was briefly homeless about 20 years ago, when he was struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction.

McSwain joined KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday with more on his decision to retire and his fervent hope that other reporters keep up coverage of San Diego homelessness.