Turns out, the man thought to be homeless and obviously barefoot who gained viral notoriety after being photographed getting a pair of boots from a New York City policeman actually has a place to lay his head. Jeffrey Hillman, 54, has a home, but chooses to spend his time on the streets.
“We’ve worked with Mr. Hillman for years. He does have stable housing,” Seth Diamond, New York City's homeless services commissioner, told NBC New York.
According to the New York Daily News, Hillman has had an apartment in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City for a year, paid for in Section 8 vouchers and veteran’s benefits.
Hillman is an Army veteran who was honorably discharged after five years in the service. He wouldn’t elaborate to news outlets how he ended up homeless or why he chooses that avenue of survival.
Days after Officer Larry DePrimo’s act of kindness, Hillman’s story took a darker turn when a New York Times reporter tracked him down, finding Hillman shoeless and panhandling once again
. He told the Times reporter the boots were hidden because they were too expensive and that, “I could lose my life.”
Speculation as to why Hillman would choose to remain homeless and shoeless has ranged from drug abuse to serious mental health issues. The discovery by the New York Daily News that he actually has a supportive family in Pennsylvania has troubled many, as well.
“Outreach teams from the Department of Homeless Services continue to attempt to work with him, but he has a history of turning down services,” Barbara Brancaccio, a representative for New York City’s Homeless Services Department, told the Daily News. “Officer DePrimo’s kindness and generosity complemented an array of housing and support services provided by the city over the past several years.”
Hillman did live in city-operated housing sites between 2009 and 2011, according to the Daily News. But a small percentage of New York’s homeless who enter shelters return to the streets.
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