It was my first thought. Somebody will kill him for those boots!
The NYPD policeman saw a man suffering from exposure with no shoes. I saw a man trying not to be noticed. Not being noticed on the street can keep you alive. If you have something somebody else wants, you’ll end up fighting over it. Don’t have anything, you might be left alone. Here the homeless man makes that point.
Officer DePrimo was celebrated on front pages and morning talk shows, the Police Department came away with a burnished image and millions got a smile from a nice story.
But what of the shoeless man?
For days, his bare feet blistered and battered were well known. Yet precise details about him proved elusive.
His name is Jeffrey Hillman, and on Sunday night, he was once again wandering the streets this time on the Upper West Side with no shoes.
The $100 pair of boots that Officer DePrimo had bought for him at a Skechers store on Nov. 14 were nowhere to be seen.
Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money, Mr. Hillman said in an interview on Broadway in the 70s. I could lose my life.
Mr. Hillman, 54, was by turns aggrieved, grateful and taken aback by all the attention that had come his way even as he struggled to figure out what to do about it.
I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission. What do I get? he said. This went around the world, and I want a piece of the pie.
He did not recall the photo being taken but remembered well the gift from Officer DePrimo. I appreciate what the officer did, dont get me wrong, he said. I wish there were more people like him in the world.
At another point he said: I want to thank everyone that got onto this thing. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. It meant a lot to me. And to the officer, first and foremost.
Mr. Hillman said he came to New York about a decade ago and had been on the streets most of that time. He moves about Manhattan, he said, not frequenting any particular neighborhood. On Sunday, he was making his way from the Upper West Side to Times Square.
If it rained, he added, he might seek refuge on a train.
Mr. Hillman said he was from South Plainfield, N.J. He said he joined the Army in 1978 and served as a food service specialist in the United States and Germany.
He produced a worn veterans identification card that confirmed his service.
Mr. Hillman said that he was honorably discharged after five years and that before he became homeless he worked in kitchens in New Jersey.
He has two children Nikita, 22, and Jeffrey, 24 but has had little contact with them since a visit three years ago, Mr. Hillman said.
He was reluctant to talk about how he ended up on the streets, staring blankly ahead when asked how his life went off course.
After a long pause, he shook his head and said, I dont know.
He knows how he got there. But why tell a reporter who really doesn’t get a hoot past filing a story how his life went south permanently. I’m betting those boots are long gone, sold for cash so he could get what he really wants and needs.
People like the reporter and even the officer, young as he is, don’t really understand what it is like on the street. I had a thief tell me once his philosophy of life. I’ll paraphrase here-“If you own something and aren’t there to protect it when I show up it was never really yours. It was mine all along. You were just holding onto for me.”
He was serious. And you need to pay attention to that because someday a person with that attitude will be trying to get your stuff. You can’t reason with them, you can’t persuade them, you can’t communicate with them. You can only stop them.
Or hide with nothing of value on you like the homeless man.