Arizona Grandmother Sues After Being Arrested for Giving Food to the Homeless

(NPR) A 78-year-old woman is taking Bullhead City, Ariz., to court over her arrest earlier this year for feeding the homeless community at a local public park.

The Institute for Justice wants a federal court to effectively end the city ordinance that prohibits Norma Thornton from giving food to the hungry in a public park. Thornton’s attorneys say the ordinance violates several of the woman’s civil rights granted under the 14th amendment.

Thornton, who has experienced homelessness and food insecurity in her life, has gone to Bullhead City Community Park for more than four years to bring home-cooked, hot meals to the area’s unhoused population gathered there.

In March, Thornton was stopped by police and arrested, charged with violating a local ordinance that makes it illegal to share prepared food in a public park “for charitable purposes” without a permit.

Prosecutors eventually dropped her misdemeanor charge, but Thornton’s legal team wants to see the ordinance dropped altogether.

To continue feeding the city’s homeless at this park in accordance with city law, Thornton would have to pay to receive a restrictive city permit, the Institute for Justice said. The permit would limit Thornton’s activities to just a two-hour window once a month.

The city has defended its ordinance in an official response posted on Facebook.

“Individuals are free to serve food to any homeless person at their place of residence, church or private property. Our ordinance applies to public parks only,” Mayor Tom Brady said in a statement.