The truth on the street about Kevin Dahlgren

October 25, 2023

Kevin Dahlgren says all of the right words to give a casual passer-by the impression that he deeply cares about people afflicted by homelessness. However, applying even the slightest bit of scrutiny to what he’s saying makes readily apparent that his words amount to little more than word salad peppered with regurgitated FOX News soundbites. In some cases, his claims are so asinine and divorced from reality that one can only imagine the great pleasure his misinformants must have taken in exploiting his gullibility.

Although we make light of Dahlgren’s absurdity, we do not mean for this to downplay the problematic nature of his false narrative, or absolve him of responsibility for the very real harm it causes. Quite the opposite, infact. We’re here because we believe that he needs to be held accountable for his cruelty towards the unhoused.

If Kevin Dahlgren truly wanted all hands on deck in collaboration to end homelessness, he’d be taking a page from his own supposed book. Instead, he chooses to perpetuate degrading stereotypes about homelessness through his production of the misery porn he frequently publishes on social media, and he’s unapologetic about exploiting the people he films to make that garbage, some unwittingly and others in spite of giving him very explicit non-consent. All of this requires such a profound lack of respect for these people’s humanity that it’s puzzling how he could have anyone fooled into believing his intentions are pure.

There is one thing everyone can agree on

There is much debate around the actual number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States, and even those who conduct the national annual point in time count from which this figure is derived will be among the first to point out that, while it is better to have some data rather than none at all, the transient nature of homelessness makes it likely for the number of individuals experiencing homelessness to be much higher than the count reflects.

But, one data point reflected by several consecutive years of this annual counting effort that isn’t debated, is a steadily rising trend in homelessness in major cities across the US.

The far right denies that the root cause of homelessness is economic

Astronomical hikes in housing costs correspondent with a shortage of available affordable housing are together the primary reason we’ve seen a year over year climb in the rate of homelessness since 2017. This is evidenced in part by the fact that the cities most affected by increases in homelessness are also disproportionately impacted by rent inflation while other cities lacking similar increases in the cost of living have seen flat-lining and even a decline in the number of homeless individuals in their communities.

However, in keeping with the far right’s well-established tendency to ignore the facts, politicians, business owners and community organizations alike have conveniently chosen to disregard available data pertaining to homelessness in favor of sensationalist rhetoric that conflates the issues of homelessness and criminality, and indicts the homeless as responsible for all of their, and society’s problems.  At the crux of this lies a premise that all homeless people are drug-addicted criminals that choose a life of crime on the streets, for which the solution is coerced imprisonment and institutionalization for all who fail to shape up and choose a better path on their own.

The Nation recently wrote a piece about this increasingly popular narrative that we think is highly on point, and reading it will inform some of the background for this editorial that we won’t be delving into because we’ve got so much to cover.

Dahlgren’s voice amplifies a common anti-homeless sentiment

Dahlgren ultimately doesn’t bring anything new to the table. He’s practiced at crafting the false truths that serve as the foundation for his myriad complaints about harm reduction and all other outreach workers that aren’t him. Beyond media attention grabbing with the misery porn he likes to call outreach, he isn’t really doing much, least of all contributing in any meaningful way to addressing homelessness.

Immediately upon entering the picture in Seattle through his affiliation with We Heart Seattle and Andrea Suarez, Dahlgren’s persecution of the unhoused and instigation of needless conflict with other outreach providers exposed his unambiguously right-leaning political compass. Though he seems apt to avoid making any explicit statements concerning his party alliance, the increasing frequency with which he appears as a pundit on Fox News and other conservative media outlets alleviates the necessity to spend much time questioning where he is likely to align himself.

Dahlgren’s party affiliation is not specifically what’s problematic though, as there are plenty of conservatives who are able to engage with others that have differing perspectives without dehumanizing them. However, as a social worker, Dahlgren has elevated access to our society’s most vulnerable people, and it’s his abuse of this privilege for exploitative purposes that are ultimately leveraged to amplify a hateful, anti-homeless message that is. We don’t think it’s coincidence that Dahlgren’s message tows the party line as indistinguishable from any of the other right-wing rhetoric outpouring from the mainstream conservative media, but this likening is ultimately inconsequential to how this particular story unfolds.

What it looks like when Dahlgren does outreach

He has a habit of making a spectacle on social media out of any interaction with the homeless that paints him as a hero, but his charity is meaningless when he abandons those same people in their real hour of need.

In early 2023, Dahlgren posted a thread on Twitter showcasing a collection of photos of himself gifting a new pair of boots to a 70-year old homeless man sleeping on the street during Portland’s winter deep freeze, where it got so cold that temperatures dipped into the single digits. Dahlgren promised the man that he would do everything in his power to get him inside to somewhere safe and warm.

What Dahlgren conveniently leaves out of his story is that he was accompanied by a reporter and camera crew from a local news station that day, and that the man was wheelchair bound and therefore didn’t really have much use for boots.

Immediately after the encounter with Dahlgren, the man’s situation took a tragic turn for the worst. First, his tent burned down and then his camp was swept, forcing him to relocate to a location further away from the medical clinic he had chosen his camping spot to be close to. Then, as if the universe wouldn’t have been happy without going for the hat trick of terrible things, the man’s wheelchair was stolen while he slept, trapping him in his new tent in a place no one knew to find him, where he spent several days lying in his own waste before outreach workers located him and got him to a hospital.  When the outreach team contacted Dahlgren for an assist with boosting the collection fund created to pay for a few nights at a hotel while a housing voucher was coordinated for him, Dahlgren acknowledged them by blocking them on Twitter.

For the amount of finger-wagging he does at other outreach workers, harping on the importance of setting aside differences in order to work together to solve homelessness, one would think he’d jump at the chance to lead by example from atop his high horse. Alas, while he certainly talks a big game about outreach, his effort to provide it was performative at best in the midst of a deadly weather crisis that necessitated all hands on deck to save lives in his city.

He’s known as “Gift Card Productions” on the street

When absent a camera crew to film his interactions with the unhoused as he moves through the Portland each day, Dahlgren is likely to be recording them himself. He has become notorious among Portland’s unhoused communities for luring people into filmed interviews with the promise of a small gift card or a few bucks in exchange for their participation, whereby he asks loaded questions and coaches the responses towards specific outcomes rather than allowing them to answer in their own words.

Everyone knows what happens from there vis a vis Dahlgren’s poverty porn Twitter feed, where he posts new content at least once daily. Many folks keep their distance and avoid interaction with him so that they don’t become the next victim of his special flavor of dehumanization, or the subsequent wave of animosity that charges the responses of his largely anti-homeless following.

These exploitative practices have earned Dahlgren the name “Gift Card Productions” on the street. He defends his practice as a chance to make someone’s day and buy them a sandwich. Sadly, $5 isn’t enough to buy a sandwich in today’s economy, and we’re unclear about how this doesn’t qualify as enablement by Dahlgren’s own definition of it. We highly doubt participating in coached interviews makes anyone’s day.

He doesn’t care about consent

Dahlgren recently traveled to San Diego with Kate Monroe, currently a republican candidate for election to the US House of Representatives for the state of California who leads with a strong “anti-woke” platform. While doing outreach to homeless individuals in the city appearing in public on their poverty tour, Dahlgren would have us all believe that he was brutally assaulted in retaliation for breaking up a fight between two men, when in reality, he was attacked for refusing to stop filming.

This is a common theme in the footage Dahlgren records during his outreach expeditions, but his usual course of action is to continue filming when he’s met with requests to stop. This behavior demonstrates a total lack of regard for consent, which is to say he doesn’t care if you say no, and he’ll even go so far as to lie in order to keep doing what he wants to do. One person reported their discovery of this when their friends appeared on the evening news after talking to Dahlgren despite his reassurances that he wasn’t recording the interaction.

He spreads harmful misinformation

Dahlgren has made some pretty wild claims that run the gamut of ridiculousness as his poverty porn Twitter feed has risen in popularity. These stories range from claiming that all drugs are laced with fentanyl (including marijuana), and that there are homeless fentanyl addicts booby-trapping grocery store door handles with lethal doses of fentanyl, to people risking death by unwittingly sitting on spent fentanyl foils while riding public transportation.

He also recently claimed that outreach workers were setting up empty tents in downtown Portland in order to attract more homeless people to come and live on its streets (as if).

We can’t speak to whether or not he managed to keep a straight face while he said any of these things, but one thing we can know definitively is that he said them.

He intentionally broadcasts the location of private encampments

Keep out signs are no deterrent for Dahlgren, who believes he has a right to be within any encampment that’s been erected on public land, and if the residents aren’t home when he visits, he’ll be sure to let himself inside to look around. He seems to be especially resentful of collectives of people who have figured out how to live reasonably well off the grid and the cleaner/more organized a homestead is, the more likely he is to shine a spotlight upon its existence and whereabouts. It would seem that his preferred relationship power dynamic with the unhoused generally involves him finding them in misery and squalor.

The fictional encampment graveyard

In September 2023, Kevin Dahlgren reported having been shown a cemetery where human remains were said to be buried. In keeping with an escalating pattern of sensationalist posts centered around (likely fictional) encampment violence, he was colorfully descriptive of what was supposedly shared with him regarding the abundance and whereabouts of said remains.

When the Multonomah County Sheriff’s Office learned about the site, which is precisely what Dahlgren was hoping would happen by broadcasting the story, they visited with a cadaver dog who canvased the forest for signs of human remains but didn’t find any. In follow-up conversations with the residents of the encampment, officers learned that the graveyard in question was a pet cemetery only, consistent with findings by the cadaver dog.

The Sheriff’s office released an official statement following their visit to the encampment in which they stated Dahlgren’s claims to be unfounded and the camp did not get swept despite his best intentions to make it so.

His policy of violence towards the unhoused

The details surrounding Dahlgren’s resignation from his four year position with the city of Gresham are unknown, but what we do know is that it happened while he was on administrative leave, and on the coat tails of the hospitalization of a homeless man after he was stepped on, held down and brutally tased by Gresham police at the behest of another member of Dahlgren’s four-person team. This person falsely reported having been assaulted by the homeless man simply because he refused to leave the premise, having been given permission by the shop owner to be there. As a leader of that team and one who plays a critical role in shaping its common practices, Dahlgren naturally took a lot of heat when this went down.

More recently during one of his many appearances on Fox News, Dahlgren expresses his disapproval of the city of Portland’s proposed legislature to allow legal camping in certain city parks, stating that he’s not OK with decriminalizing homelessness (news flash, it’s not illegal to be homeless despite there being a faction of people who want it to be).  It’s pretty clear to us by now that Dahlgren would prefer to just round up all of the homeless people and throw them in jail, and where there are police, there is violence.

Speaking of ignoring the facts

The sheriff of Deschutes County in Oregon recently awarded Dahlgren an $18k contract to help them gain a better understanding of the steadily growing homeless population in and around the China Hat Road area. His first order of business was production of a written report detailing his initial evaluation, wherein he completely discarded the annual point in time count data that informs much of the county’s existing policy around homelessness, and replaced it with his own headcount sans any explanation of his chosen method or why it is superior, making it speculative at best. Several government officials and service providers in the county, a majority of whom were not informed about the contract with Dahlgren until weeks or months after he was hired, have called the report problematic, citing it to be chocked full of assumptions, ommissions and anecdotes.

Remaining consistent with an already-established pattern of baseless claim-making, we hope that the commissioners of Dahlgren’s report take whatever he says within it with the same grain as they would any of his other wild stories.

Our takeaway from the local news articles we’ve read, and from listening to the monthly meetings held by Deschutes county, is that Dahlgren made no attempts to partner with other service providers in the area, of which there are plenty, representing both privately-funded orgs and government-run programs. Between that and the duplication of effort in conducting his own count, we’re confident that Deschutes county hasn’t been given anything even remotely approaching a scientific opinion.

There’s nothing wrong with calling them mole people?

Dahlgren recently connected with Tyler Oliveira, a young YouTube sensation who makes short documentary films. Oliveira initially published one about the city of Portland following Oregon’s decriminalization of all drugs near the beginning of the pandemic that featured Dahlgren, and then the two went on to film others in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Arizona.

While performing outreach in Los Angeles, Dahlgren was supposedly forced to smoke meth, although we’re not buying his story given how often he’s untruthful about his interactions with the unhoused, and Oliveira conveniently didn’t catch any of this on film.

The shoot in Las Vegas didn’t go so well for them either. Oliveira didn’t like what the people of the mutual aid group he partnered with to gain access to the homeless population living in the tunnels beneath Las Vegas had to say about Dahlgren after they learned more about him, and by his account, withdrew from their agreement for that reason. The two forged ahead without the help of the people of Holy Smokes but only made it a few hundred feet into the tunnels before they got spooked and high-tailed it out of there.

Oliveira and Dahlgren recorded a gratuitously long podcast the night before they descended upon the tunnels, wherein Oliveira complains about being told that referring to the city’s homeless people as “mole people” was in poor taste, and Dahlgren corroborates his frustration, stating that he sees nothing wrong with using that label.

You can listen to over two hours of nauseating mutual ego-stroking and trash talk about the good people of Holy Smokes if you have the stomach for it. We think it’s pretty despicable stuff all around.

Why Dahlgren will never solve homelessness

The big lie is that Dahlgren has ever had any intention of ending homelessness to begin with. The fact of the matter is that his actions tell a very different truth than his words do.

He is very deliberately fanning the flames of hostility towards the homeless with sensationalist fear-mongering and propagation of harmful mistruths, all the while attempting to maintain the outward appearance of being an empathetic advocate for the disenfranchised. He’ll be successful at this for as long as his target audience continues to buy into his false narrative, which they seemingly do so, hook, line and sinker.

He alienates the very people who would be his closest allies if his pursuit was genuine, lambasting them with an onslaught of complaints, contrived from a fictional narrative that grows increasingly preposterous with every passing day. He frequently reminds the world at large that we cannot end homelessness unless we all work together, while assigning blame for the impossibility of cooperation within the prevailing status quo to those he criticizes without owning any of it himself. He would sooner incite conflict than be subject to similar scrutiny and shows no signs of having the capacity or desire for self-reflection.

It’s quite obvious to us that he makes such a public spectacle out of what he does because he thinks it’s the Kevin Dahlgren show, wherein he is the one and only true hero. It’s never been about anyone else but himself.