Its front page identifies San Diego as home of “America’s Finest City Slums,” its quirky contents reference UFOs and conspiracy theories, and some articles read like stream-of-consciousness observations.
But for nine years, John Kitchin’s San Diego Homeless News also has skewered local politicians, nonprofits and the media’s coverage of homelessness, and his editorials show he is one of the city’s ferocious watchdogs on the subject.
“We’re going to have a homeless navigation center, and we have zero pieces of housing available,” he said about a city plan to open a center to connect people with housing.
“I call it the housing hallucination center,” Kitchin continued. “They’re trying to come up with housing that doesn’t even exist and put people into it.”
He’s just as critical of many of the city’s other approaches to addressing homelessness, but also gives credit when he feels it’s due. The December edition of the newsletter praised state Assemblyman Todd Gloria for calling for an investigation into how the county handled the hepatitis A outbreak in 2017 that hit the homeless population hard.
In an interview, however, Kitchin also blasted Gloria, citing the politician’s time on the San Diego City Council, for allowing many low-income units to be razed to make way for Petco Park.
Kitchin, 66, has spoken in front of the City Council, attended many of the council’s Select Committee on Homelessness meetings and almost all meetings of the Basic Dignity Coalition, which is focused on combating homelessness.
He combs local media for stories on homelessness, often writing brief synopses and reviews of the coverage.
But who is Kitchin, who calls himself a professor of homelessness, and why does he focus so much energy on the issue?
A conversation with him can be a wild ride.
“I was appointed to be the atheist pagan bishop of San Diego,” he said when asked why he moved to the city from Milwaukee in 1989. “It’s the most secret of all religions. You can’t even look anything up on the web.”
Kitchin said he works out of a van-sized office he rents in Tijuana and lives part time in an $11-a-night hotel there. To abide by requirements for Social Security and SSI payments, he also lives in San Diego, sometimes sleeping in city parks.
Local politicians who talk about homelessness will never really understand the issue, he said, because they have never been homeless themselves.
Admirers of Kitchin’s work include attorney Scott Dreher, whose lawsuits against the city of San Diego have resulted in some changes to how laws relating to homelessness are enforced.
“On issues where he’s advocating for the homeless, I love him and he’s a cool guy,” Dreher said. “He gets it.”
But Dreher also said parts of the publication that veer from homeless news should be taken with a grain of salt, and he disregards some of Kitchin’s more unconventional articles.
“To me, it’s very easily separated,” he said, adding that he’s been impressed about how well Kitchin follows his court actions.
“Whenever we file something, he’s written about it,” Dreher said. “He sometimes has said, ‘I think you should go further.’ It’s nice to have someone supportive.”
Rob Bird, an officer with the homeless advocacy nonprofit Amikas, has read San Diego Homeless News and knows Kitchin from meetings at the Basic Dignity Coalition.
“I can say he’s held everyone’s attention at the meeting enough to keep me coming around,” Bird said.
He called Kitchin eccentric, but also said he pays attention and invests himself in issues.
“In some ways, he’d make an admirable reporter for a legitimate outlet,” he said.
A Wisconsin native, Kitchin said he studied at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and earned a Ph.D. in applied psychology in 1979.
He acknowledges that fact-checking his academic career can be a challenge, since his doctorate was from what he described as a nonstandard school, Milwaukee Free University, which doesn’t exist anymore. It also doesn’t help that his doctorate on how talent is passed on from generation to generation “is above top secret.”
Kitchin also said he started a private security firm that still exists in Milwaukee. The company’s website, however, names someone else as its founder.
“If you look at some of the stuff I’ve done in the past and add it all up, it looks totally unbelievable,” he said. “My résumé is 18 pages if I got it all in there. Some of what I did was top secret.”
Kitchin’s explanation of why he left Wisconsin also is somewhat head-spinning. It involves what he described as an unjust conviction for felony fraud, the mafia, corrupt media and countless false arrests, ultimately ending with all criminal charges cleared by the Canadian CIA.
That’s what brought him to San Diego, where he said he operated a heating and air conditioning company in Alpine until it went out of business in 2008, leading to him being homeless the following year.
Kitchin said he began San Diego Homeless News as an online venture in 2010 at the urging of the San Diego Underground Press Association.
“Which isn’t its real name,” he said. “Its real name is secret.”
Kitchin designs the newsletter on a computer and stores it on a memory card he takes to a downtown San Diego FedEx Office Print & Ship Center.
He has printed as few as one copy and up to 8,000 at a time, he said, but most readers get their copies by e-mail. Kitchin said he has about 148,000 addresses on his e-mail list, and he prints the newsletter in three editions, including Spanish and Mandarin.
“The Chinese tell me they read it to document the fall of the United States,” he said, adding that he’s never seen the Mandarin edition, which he said is printed by a company in Beijing, and he couldn’t read it anyway because he doesn’t understand the language.
His paper is a mixed bag of social commentary, political analysis and humor, interspersed with some conspiracy theories about secret societies. When it comes to keeping track of local actions and plans regarding homelessness, however, little seems to get past him.
“It’s a valid newspaper,” he boasted in a recent interview. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but way, way, way more people in Sacramento who are politicians read my newspaper than read yours.”
Kitchin sounds cynical about politicians and nonprofits, wondering out loud if they are motivated by nepotism and cronyism rather than altruism. He does praise at least one nonprofit, Third Avenue Charity Organizations, for its work in helping the homeless.
The online version of his paper, found at nz9f.com/sdhn, also has a long list of sources for shelter, food and health services as well as archived editions of his paper.
Despite the seriousness of his subject matter, Kitchin peppers his paper with humor. One headline in a recent edition was “Snide comments.”
A photo caption in another edition read, “Starving? Rich people taste just like chicken!”
“I used to write for Johnny Carson.”