NYPD officer Lawrence Deprimo gives boots to a homeless man. Jennifer Foster of Florence, AZ was visiting Times Square with her husband Nov. 14 when they saw a shoeless man asking for change.(Photo: Jennifer Foster via NYPD Facebook)
Natalie DiBlasio, USA TODAY
The man who became an Internet sensation after an NYPD officer gave him his boots is actually not homeless.
The barefoot homeless man that captivated the nation isn't actually homeless.
Jeffrey Hillman became an Internet sensation after a photo of a kindhearted NYPD police officer kneeling down to give him boots went viral.
Although he captured headlines as homeless, Hillman has an apartment in the Bronx paid for by the federal government.
Hillman has lived in Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing since 2011.
Despite the roof over his head, Hillman still needs help, NYC Commissioner of Homeless Services Seth Diamond says.
"Just because he has an apartment doesn't mean our work is done with him," Diamond says. "He is not dressed for the weather, he is not engaged in a healthy lifestyle, and he is not leading a productive life."
Hillman has been receiving Department of Homelessness services since 2009. From 2009-2011, Hillman lived in transitional housing sites called Safe Havens, and in 2011, he was judged stable enough to move into the regular private apartment.
"Housing is an important first step that builds the foundation, but there is more that needs to be done," Diamond says. "The initial problems that put them on the street need to be addressed like mental health, substance abuse, physical issues, employment."
Hillman does not always accept help.
"We continue to reach out to him, and we have had contact in the last few weeks," Diamond says. "Sometimes he appears to be receptive and other times less so. We never give up."
Since recognizing Hillman in the media, his high school class of 1976 from South Plainfield has rallied for him.
More than 200 South Plainfield classmates gathered to organize the Jeffrey Hillman Survival Fund on Facebook.
"I'm very worried about him, considering that you realize he does have an apartment," says classmate Ellen Shapiro DeMaio. "The point is that he's lost. We have to somehow as a class -- since we're a family and he's still one of us -- be able to reach him and give him a helping hand up if we can. That's our main concern."
Hillman is back on the streets with no shoes.
A few days after the viral photo was posted, The New York Times found Hillman barefoot again and asked about the $100 all-weather boots. Hillman said he'd hidden them because "they are worth a lot of money."
He said he's grateful for the gift, but he wants "a piece of the pie" because the photo was posted online "without permission."