Jeffrey Hillman’s bare feet on a frigid night in New York City last month inspired a police officer to buy the seemingly homeless man a pair of warm boots — a moment captured in a heartwarming photo that went viral.
But Hillman could be living in an apartment that’s been made available to him thanks to federal rent vouchers and other government aid, New York’s Daily News reports.
“Nevertheless,” the Daily News says, “the now-famous nomad has continued to panhandle and cling to the cold streets of Gotham.”
Just as the 54-year-old Hillman has chosen to remain barefoot most of the time — because, he says, he fears being killed for the boots — it appears he’s declined the help offered him by agencies that help find housing for the homeless.
“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 spokeswoman for the city agency, tells the newspaper.
Brancaccio’s comments underscore a thread in the discussion Two-Way readers had Monday in our post about Hillman’s decision not to wear the boots. Several wrote about the challenge of working with those who decline their help. “Fred Oliver” said things well, according to many readers:
“I’ve worked a lot with the homeless and labelling them all as mentally disabled is just wrong. They’re a varied group. Some are families that have been affected by the loss of a job; some are veterans who haven’t been able to make it back into the mainstream; some are mentally ill; some are addicts; and some are a combination of some or all of the above. Some folks will be able to move on and some won’t. What they all have in common is their humanity. I’ve had some of the most down-and-outers refuse help for them themselves but accept it for their companion animal. When I try to help folks I first talk to them and find out what they think they need, not what I think they need. Then, if I can, I try to provide that. One thing we could all do is promote shelters that take families so they aren’t split up, job trainings and supports for those who are temporarily down and out. For those who won’t or can’t change their lifestyle, then give them your time by really talking to them. Don’t walk by and ignore them. Your recognition of their humanity is sometimes the greatest gift of all.”
Meanwhile, the East Brunswick, N.J., Home News Tribune says some of Hillman’s high school classmates are trying to organize some support for their old friend. John Graf Jr., “a non-denominational Minister in the Metropolitan area over 12 years and … retired CEO of Somerset County United Way” is using Facebook to spread the word about his classmate.