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Group files $50 million lawsuit over Denver urban camping ban

Posted at 6:37 PM, Jan 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-06 20:37:02-05

DENVER — A nonprofit has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the City of Denver over the homeless camping ban.

Jon McLane with Veteran Rescue Mission was arrested in May 2019 outside of Civic Center Park. He and a group of advocates where doing homeless outreach and protesting the camping ban.

“Within an hour of setting up the police were out here, they put me in cuffs and put me in the back of a police car,” McLane said.

Body camera video shows police arresting McLane for violating the camping ban, but he was charged with a park curfew violation. McLane says that case was later dismissed because he proved they were not within the park boundary.

“If we see something that is unconstitutional we don’t just let it stand we do everything in our power to try and change it to make a more dignified existence for the people who have to survive in this type of weather,” McLane said.

He along with four others protesting that night are named in the $50 million lawsuit claiming their First Amendment rights were violated and the camping ban forces the homeless to live as criminals. They want the ban overturned and the city to provide more restrooms and housing for the homeless.

The lawsuit comes less than two weeks after a judge ruled the camping ban unconstitutional.

Supporters of the ban say allowing people to sleep on the streets is inhumane and a public health crisis.

McLane agrees.

“Unfortunately for the government, that onus is theirs to designate -- places where people can camp, designate places were people can urinate, places where people can live,” McLane said.

McLane is a veteran who served in Iraq. He started Veteran Rescue Mission to help homeless vets find resources for housing.

“Our heart is dead set on ending the 22 a day veteran suicide rate and we know the best way to do that is to help people get housed, help people get benefits,” he said.

One of the vets he set out to support that night was Jerry Burton. Burton is a Marine Corps veteran who has been homeless in Denver five years. He received an urban camping ticket in April 2019. It was his case that the judge ruled the camping ban was “cruel and unusual punishment.”

“I just think it’s a waste of tax payer money and if Denver feels that they are going to waste our money that way than so be it because there is going to be a lot more lawsuits coming,” Burton said.

Burton is also pushing for the Denver City Council to overturn the urban camping ban.

“It doesn’t matter if Denver has 100 million beds available. The point is this: You cannot infringe on peoples constitutional rights,” Burton said.

The City Attorney’s Office has already filed an appeal to the judges ruling on the urban camping ban. They declined to comment on the lawsuit until they have officially been served.