Barefoot 'Homeless' Man Given Shoes by Kind NYPD Officer Might Have a Home After All

Rant 8

NYPD Officer DePrimo Jeffrey HillmanBy now you've probably heard about the hero NYPD officer who saw a homeless man sitting barefoot in Times Square and decided to buy him a brand new pair of shoes. It was supposed to be the feel-good story to end all feel-good stories this holiday season. But the meet-up between Officer Larry DePrimo and "homeless" man Jeffrey Hillman is starting to look more like a soap opera.

Notice how I put homeless in quotes? That's because a day after finding out that Hillman isn't actually wearing those spanking new Skechers, now there are claims that he isn't exactly homeless either. Well, sort of.

Some intrepid reporters have uncovered the fact that Hillman has been offered an apartment in the Bronx, paid for by federal Section 8 rent vouchers, veterans benefits, and Social Security disability benefits.

So a roof over his head means Hillman isn't homeless and therefore just taking advantage of that nice, kind officer, right?

Not so fast.

Hillman has access to an apartment. He even has a supportive family who would like to help him. But the guy who I gave a pass yesterday for hiding the shoes over fear that he'd be killed for them still gets some sympathy in my book.

Yes, technically he can be seen as making his own problems, gaming the system, taking advantage of kind people like Officer DePrimo who put his neck on the line out of the goodness of his heart.

And yet, this is one of the reasons we have a homelessness issue in America today. Because it takes a mental illness to tell the government you don't want an apartment, that you'd rather live on the streets.

Having access to housing doesn't mean you're not homeless. It simply makes your homelessness that much sadder, that much more heartbreaking.

Thousands of homeless people in America have supportive families who would help them. But they remain homeless because the demons in their heads make them that way.

Unsurprisingly, Hillman is a veteran. He's one of the 131,000 veterans of our military who the US Department of Veterans Affairs estimates sleep in the streets on any given night. Nearly 40 percent of all homeless men are vets, a figure that is especially striking considering vets only represent 34 percent of the adult male population in America.

The issue of homeless vets is intrinsically linked to mental illness. Many of these men (because it's predominately male veterans who end up on the streets) return from war with minds that will never be the same. They are unable to function in normal society, and so they leave.

It's hard for those of us who aren't fighting with our own minds to understand their choices, especially one like Hillman's refusal to sleep in a nice, warm bed. But that, right there, is the problem. We don't yet understand why these people make the choices they do. Even the mental health community is struggling to make sense of it, to find a solution.

We don't have our nice, simple holiday pick-me-up here. But what we have may be better. We have an honest look at one of the often ignored problems in America: what it really means to be homeless, and all the complications that come with it.

Do you consider Jeffrey Hillman homeless? Does this change what you think of this story?


Image via NYPD Facebook

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Elizabeth Ahmad

It is even more sad.  When we went all politically correct and got rid of mental instituions and tried to medicate people and put them in group homes or their own homes, this has become the norm not the exception for those suffering from mental illness.  Most prisons are overflowing from mentally ill people who cannot live on their own and end up in prison for various reason.  Do all people who are mentally ill or mentally disabled need to be in an course not.  However, there are those who would do better in a structured environment with limited freedoms for their own safety and the rest of society.  The US culture and people have a long history of ignoring or triviliazing mental illness.  This man needs more help than a good pair of shoes, an apartment and food in his belly.

Austin Keenan

At that moment what he genuinely needed was a pair of boots.   

I don't know about New York but the shelters here send out vans regularly on dangerously cold nights to pick folks up and take them to shelter.     The first couple of trips it's a no-pressure offer.    Then they apply some pressure/encouragement.    And finally they give them blankets,  clothes,  etc    But unless they're so mentally ill that they can't process and feel the pain of the col,   they're not forced to do anything.   

  Many of these folks suffer have great fear of structure and societal constraints of any kind.    When you force them to do anything,  no matter how kind,   you see that it's torture in their minds.    There really is no compassionate answer.

bleed... bleedingheart8D

I agree completely with Elizabeth Ahmad.

mompam mompam

Well this is the exact problem. Have you ever walked through new York city? It seems all of the homeless are mentally deficient. It's so sad because they can't take care of themselves.

dreamsky dreamsky

Whatever. Here on my local news they said the homeless man "wanted a piece of the pie because they used his photo without permission" I think he's pretty competent.

nonmember avatar logan

First off, let me just say this applies to vets, not every homeless person. With that said, let me say this-unless you are a vet, and have an idea of the shit that actually happens-not the media purtraid (sorry my spelling sucks) war-do not pass judgement on this man. He knows what is going on, he is fully aware. You dont know what demons he has or the guilt he may have. He has a reason for not taking that apartment, leave him alone. He is doing what he feels he needs to do-whatever that reason may be. Also, as far as saying he has a mental illness because his choices aren't what "society" wants, how dare you! What he has done for this country, he has EARNED his right do live how he wants to. So like i said, unless you have been down his road-you have no right to pass judgement, and i assure you, you have no idea, nor will you understand, his reasoning. Just leave him be and move on to the next sob story. To those i have offended, im sorry. I dont care if i offended you, im just sorry you dont understand.

Amy Creason

@dreamsky "your local news" has a media bias. They will spin the story as much in any way to make it more interesting; local media (all media, I suppose) is concerned less with facts and more with "headlines" and getting people to read their stuff. To come to conclusions based on local media alone is about as ignorant as they come. 

(this isn't to say the point is right or wrong... but in order to make these kind of judgements, one can't be quite so niave...) 

CPN322 CPN322

I've been very much aware of the homeless that are mentally ill since I was a child. As a kid, I told my mother I wanted to grow up and build a 20 story tall hotel for all the homeless people to live in. That is when my mother explained to me that unfortunately, many homeless people are homeless because their mental illnesses make them choose that and that many would still sit outside of the hotel rather than going inside. I'm reminded of a trip to hawaii with my family 2 years ago. After we'd eatn breakfast on a picnic table by the beach, I saw a woman digging through trash and decided to offer her my biscuit. I tried and tried to give it to her, thinking at first she maybe didn't speak english(I was confused) but she wouldn't take it. Not 2 seconds after I placed it on top of the trash she then took it out and ate it. :( But, I'd also like to add that with todays economy, there are now a lot of homeless that are that way because they are down on their luck and imbetween jobs. As for this man, I hope he accepts help one day soon.

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