As Margot Hary held up a rock in her clenched right fist in front of the Davenport City Council, she recalled a story a homeless gentleman told her about children beating him up with rocks.
Hary, who serves as homeless outreach coordinator at The Center, was trying to impress upon the City Council that the community should embrace organizations like Timothy's House of Hope, which helps the homeless, but was shut down by the city over zoning issues.
"He held up his blanket and ran down the street to get away from them," Hary said. "I want all of us to put our rocks down."
Timothy's House of Hope, which moved to 1602 Washington St. earlier this month from 1407 W. 4th St., has been a popular site to feed the homeless.
But because of its current C-2 zoning, General Commercial District, it's new location prohibits use of its kitchen for that purpose.
The city issued a cease and desist to the organization, but during Wednesday's Council meeting, members of the community and organization took the first step toward fighting back.
The Compassion Church, which operates the facility, has retained attorney Mike Meloy, who said the city is discriminating against the nonprofit and is violating the state and federal constitutions as well as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
"We are here to tell the Davenport City Council that the city of Davenport's actions violate Pastor (Jim) Swope and Pastor (Nick) Cantwell's religious freedom of association and religious rights protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (and) Article 1 section 3 of the Iowa Constitution," Meloy said.
Cantwell, the lead pastor at the church, said it's the mission of the church to reach out to all people, regardless of whether they have a home.
"We at Compassion Church believe that people are not bums, but are people," Cantwell said. "We also believe that it is not a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it is the right thing to do. We are asking you tonight to help us continue to help the people on Washington Street, people here in Davenport, Iowa, as we continue to reach out to the homeless."
Rebecca Selix, an alumni of Timothy's House of Hope, offered her own testimony of how the church helped her improve her life.
Selix also mentioned how caring people on the street were because of the contributions of Swope, Timothy's House of Hope and other nonprofits.
She took aim at Alderman Ray Ambrose, 4th Ward, whose comments last week — “I don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling for the homeless as other people do,” and other statements, caused outrage in the community, while she dispelled misconceptions about the homeless.
"As a former bum, I want you to know that my character has remained the same, whether I was homeless or had an apartment or was rooming with somebody," Selix said. "My character did not change."
Americans For Prosperity-Iowa State Director Drew Klein also issued a statement rebuking Ambrose for his comments and the city's decision to close the organization's operations.
“It is truly appalling that city officials are citing long ignored zoning regulations to shut down a ministry that has done nothing but serve underprivileged members of the Davenport community," Klein said. "Alderman Ray Ambrose’s words on this issue have been particularly distasteful, referring to members of the homeless community as bums and claiming he does not share his community’s sympathy for these individuals.
"We believe the individuals seeking to close Timothy's House of Hope should take a step back and ask themselves why people elected them to govern in the first place. Shuttering a ministry that is doing incredible work in the community is probably not what their voters had in mind.”
In making her comments in a public forum, Selix said she probably had outed herself as a former homeless person, which she has kept quiet because of the prejudices and difficulties the homeless face, but said the organization helped her get back on her feet.
"What Timothy's House does and what Compassion Church does is help people rise above their circumstances," Selix said. "It propels them forward."
After the meeting, Ambrose said that his objections were in reference to concerns he received from businesses and residents in his ward and his intentions were only to protect the neighborhood.
"I feel bad because I do homeless outreach, but my family focuses on the children that have some challenges," Ambrose said. "We work with kids whose families struggle. I'm not a hater of the homeless."
The Davenport City Council did not comment publicly on any of the testimony they received Wednesday evening. However, Mayor Frank Klipsch said the city was willing to work with Meloy and the organization to work out the issues.
"This was approached as a zoning issue not an anti-Timothy's House of Hope issue," Klipsch said. "We can definitely sit with them and staff and see what's involved."