Turns out that the Barefoot Homeless Guy in the nice story about the NYC cop who bought him boots is a lot more complicated than we all knew:
The barefoot homeless man who received new shoes from a kindhearted NYPD cop isn’t actually homeless — and has a sad history of refusing help from loved ones and the government.
For the past year, Jeffrey Hillman has had an apartment in the Bronx paid for through a combination of federal Section 8 rent vouchers and Social Security disability and veterans benefits, officials said Monday.
But nevertheless, the now-famous nomad has continued to panhandle and cling to the cold streets of Gotham.
It was a moment of sidewalk squalor — the 54-year-old veteran squatting barefoot in Times Square on a frigid night — and Officer Lawrence DePrimo’s singular expression of compassion — buying him expensive winter boots — that inspired a tourist’s cell phone picture and mesmerized the nation. Yet before DePrimo, an assortment of city agencies extended the troubled man a helping hand.
“Outreach teams from the Department of Homeless Services continue to attempt to work with him, but he has a history of turning down services,” said Barbara Brancaccio, a spokeswoman for the city agency.
The revelation that Hillman has a warm home and a bed to sleep in further complicated what at first seemed like a perfect feel-good tale for the holidays.
After the story of DePrimo’s generosity went viral, Hillman turned up again — still on the streets and still shoeless. He told a reporter he hid the boots that set DePrimo back $75 so they wouldn’t be stolen — an indication that, perhaps, he needs help beyond mere handouts.
Then the Daily News discovered Hillman had a loving, supportive family in Nazareth, Pa. — another sign that there is no easy fix for his predicament.
Homelessness is so hard to figure out, and is not in every instance a problem that can be solved. I personally know a mentally ill person who chose for some time to live out on the streets, refusing his medication and desperate offers to help him from his family, who had no legal power to force him to get off the streets and on his meds. He was condemned to be free, and there wasn’t a thing anybody could do about it.