During the Christmas Season the viral and now infamous story and picture of a New York City Police Officer spending his own money to buy a barefoot homeless man a pair of socks and boots warmed all of our hearts. Then we found out that he was not really homeless and was seen days later barefoot again and made us all a bit bitter and colder than the days temperature. In the Jan. 14, 2013, edition of the Asbury Park Press (APP) the sequel and shocking chapter of the story is written.
The APP article explains in detail how Jeffrey Hillman came to be on the streets of NYC panhandling and choosing to live his life that way instead of taking the help that was offered to him. It wasn’t always that way for Hillman who was a high school basketball star from South Plainfield NJ. The shocking part is that Hillman found being a panhandler was more profitable and the extent he went to in an effort to net on some days as much as $1,000.
In the article, Hillman explains that he told the officer that he did not need the boots but that the officer insisted on giving them to him. Hillman tells of how the shelters were more dangerous than the streets, and in those shelters he had to give in to demands from ex-convicts to give them his shoes so he began to horde them and had about 30 pair hidden. Hillman was given an apartment by the Veterans Affairs Dept. for time served when he was in the Army in his younger days, he also received a $751 monthly disability check, $151 to subsidize his rent and other expenses.
Hillman admitted that when he would go out to panhandle he would place fresh food in a garbage bin and then make it look as if he were eating rotten food from the bin and that “people throw money at me like hotcakes” Hillman then goes with the barefoot routine to get shoes and since he already has 30 pairs he sells the surplus for cash. Hillman told the APP “I’m not scamming anyone, any more than those guys on Wall Street scammed all of us,” he says. “If I want to be barefoot, I’m only hurting myself. It’s just me out here. I don’t have to worry about anyone else or have anyone tell me what to do.”
Some good did come out of his 15 minutes of fame, Hillman is living in his apartment, relies more on his disability check and wears the boots that he was given by the officer and has accepted accountability for his actions more so than he did in the past. His old classmates and church have invested their time and effort to get him back into society as a productive citizen.