DENVER -- A former homeless veteran is defending a $50 million lawsuit he filed against the City of Denver after the case was dismissed following his arrest last May.
Jon McLane, a homeless activist and ordained pastor from Arizona, spent five years on the streets after serving eight years in the Army. He said he's still serving his country — now helping fight for homeless vets. But the lawsuit he filed in Denver is raising red flags for some, as this isn't the first time he's been involved with the courts.
McLane, along with his group and church, the Veteran Rescue Mission, drove from Arizona to Denver to set up a five-day camp in an area adjacent to the Denver Public Library, just across from Lincoln State Park, which was recently closed due to what city officials called a "major rat infestation," that also forced the removal of a homeless camp that set up in the area.
"We as a community, whether a veteran community or a church community, have set up to provide something (so) these people don't die on the streets," McLane said.
He argued Denver's camping ban criminalizes people for being homeless, but doesn't propose any solutions.
District 10 City Councilmember Chris Hinds told Denver7 he can't comment on the city's lawsuit, but said he feels for McLane, despite his methods to raise awareness of the issue.
"The majority of Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless," said Hinds. "I certainly empathize with the fellow, but suing the city is not he answer."
This isn't the first time McLane has sued a city, and Denver7 inquired about those previous lawsuits.
In 2017, for example, McLane and another homeless advocate filed a lawsuit in federal court against the City of Tucson, Ariz., "seeking millions in damages for harassment from city officials" over a shuttered homeless encampment called Safe Park, according to a news article from Tucson.com. At the time, the website reported the city settled with McLane and the other homeless activist, awarding each of them $20,000 with no admission of fault from the city.
A year later, in 2018, KVOA.com reported McLane had filed a lawsuit against Pima County, Ariz., after his nonprofit, the non-denominational Christian church, Veteran Rescue Mission, received a letter from the Pima County Attorney stating that, "due to zoning issues, their church cannot operate on the property." It's unclear whether he received a settlement from that lawsuit.
Denver7 also found out McLane has made stops in Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
When asked what he has to say to critics who argue the group is going from city to city profiting from homelessness, McLane rebutted the accusations.
"Any money we get – any money we have gotten, has gone directly into helping the people," McLane told Denver. "I know God knows. That's what's most important to me."
But as Denverite's Donna Bryson reports, not everyone is convinced. In an interview with Bryson, a social worker who runs a tiny home project in Tucson for the homeless said McLane, "has a knack for drawing attention to the issue of homelessness, but also to himself," further stating she worked with him years ago but has since severed ties with the activist and pastor. Bryson also reported on a comment McLane made to a Tucson newspaper columnist, which appeared to indicate he was seeking personal gain from the lawsuit.
The activist-turned-pastor remains undeterred, however, and told Denver7 that when it comes to homelessness, the time for talk is over.
"Certainly trying to hide it or shun it isn't going to be the answer. Vets commit suicide every day. If I can chip at that in any way, I've done my part," he said.
McLane said the total sum of $40,000 he and the other homeless advocate were awarded in Tucson went to building a tiny home village for homeless vets. Denver7 could not independently confirm that statement with Tucson, Ariz., officials, but found this article from KOLD News 13 dated May 9, 2018 – a little more than a year following the settlement with the City of Tucson – which reported on the efforts of a group of volunteers helping the Veteran Rescue Mission in building a tiny home village in that city. The following year, however, on July 18, 2019, an article from KVOA News 4 Tucson reported that tiny home village was violating a local zoning ordinance. Denver7 was not able to corroborate if that tiny home village remains open.
McLane told Denver7 he has submitted a similar plan to the Denver City Council to help the homeless here in Denver, saying any money from the Denver lawsuit or anywhere else will go directly to helping the homeless.