Earlier this week, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office arrested Kevin Dahlgren, an online personality best known for his viral and controversial videos on homelessness. He pleaded not guilty to 19 different charges, including identity theft and official misconduct.
Long before his arrest, Dahlgren drew praise from some officials for his work, as well as the ire of service providers who have accused him of sensationalizing the dangers of homelessness for his own gain.
Who is Kevin Dahlgren?
Kevin Dahlgren is a homeless services provider from Portland. He previously worked as a homeless services provider for the city of Gresham, but would often film himself visiting camps in Portland.
Many of the videos he produces, some of which have gone viral, center on Dahlgren’s view that the service providers are not doing enough to respond to a growing crisis, and that officials are enabling homeless people to continue living outside.
Sometimes his posts take a political bent, claiming that “social services have been completely monopolized by the left and then radicalized.” His work has attracted the attention of national right-leaning outlets such as Fox News and the New York Post, which have written stories critical of Portland’s response to the homelessness crisis.
Dahlgren’s work has taken him all over the West, including Bend, Portland, Seattle and Hawaii.
And he has amassed a large following on social media and YouTube. He’s been lauded by some local officials across Oregon for his work.
Why his work is controversial
Many service providers have taken issue with his approach. He’s very critical of service providers, some of whom say Dahlgren has overemphasized the role of addiction in homelessness.
His videos focus heavily on drug use and frequently show people in crisis. And it has been lucrative for him.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office last summer paid him $18,000 to produce his own study on homelessness. But providers said Dahlgren’s six-page report is full of misinformation and is directly at odds with the federally mandated Point In Time count.
James Cook, a service provider in Redmond, Oregon, said Dahlgren provided little evidence for the claims made in his report, and noted that it contained many spelling errors and appeared unprofessional.
Cook pointed out that Dahlgren criticized the Lighthouse Navigation Center — Bend’s only low barrier shelter — while applauding the work of nearby high-barrier shelter Shepherd’s House, even though they’re operated by the same organization.
“It’s a total fraud in my opinion,” Cook said of the report. “The report itself easily shows that he’s unfamiliar with Central Oregon and hasn’t really done the research. That’s not a scientific report and it’s not worth $18,000.”
Chuck Hemingway is a service provider in Bend and said Dahlgren hurt efforts in Central Oregon to combat homelessness, especially since his arrest.
“It’s saddening to think that the number of people out there who’ve been engaged in these efforts for years are being wholly discounted by somebody who just blows in from someplace else and starts making all sorts of conclusions, for which there’s no valid basis,” he said.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office terminated the contract with Dahlgren in August after learning he was under criminal investigation in Gresham.
The charges he’s facing
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office led an extensive investigation back at least into last summer. Police arrested him on Tuesday and have charged him with seven counts of theft greater than $1,000 and seven counts of identity theft. He’s also facing five counts of official misconduct.
The specifics of Dahlgren’s alleged crimes are still unclear, but Deputy John Plock said he used the identities of several homeless people to defraud the city of Gresham from 2020-2021.
“This population that Mr. Dahlgren was supposed to be serving and advocating for is a really vulnerable population of people,” Plock said. “It’s really disheartening and it really chips away at our ability to assist and help these people.”
Plock also said they’re trying to contact more victims, a difficult process since many are homeless and could be unreachable. The sheriff’s office is encouraging any possible victims to come forward and share their stories.
One family’s story
Neither police nor the district attorney’s office have mentioned any evidence that could be presented in court.
But OPB recently spoke to a family Dahlgren claimed to have helped, who now say he took advantage of them.
Brandon and Michelle Santiago were living in a broken-down recreational vehicle in the Deschutes National Forest outside of Bend earlier this year. Dahlgren raised money for them to help replace a car part and in total gave them nearly $900. The plan originally was for the Santiagos to travel to Alaska, where Brandon had a job lined up as a fisherman.
In turn, the family was featured frequently in Dahlgren’s videos, both on social media and on YouTube, where he solicited future donations. He also sought out coverage from a local television station to build his credibility, according to records obtained by OPB.
But the Santiagos never made it to Alaska and are currently residing in Medford. Dahlgren told local media he had donated thousands of dollars to the family, the Santiagos say they only received $900.
“At first he seemed like he was a good dude,” Brandon Santiago said. “Now I’m hearing he’s done all these things and I’m freaking out.”
The Santiagos said they haven’t heard from Dahlgren since he sent them $100 back in July. They tried calling him multiple times, but he did not answer.
The court released Dahlgren from jail earlier this week as he awaits his trial. He’s represented by a court-appointed attorney.