"Homeless man" not homeless -- lives in rent-free apartment
New York City Police Officer Larry DePrimo presents boots to a barefoot man later identified as Jeffrey Hillman in New York's Times Square Nov. 14, 2012. / AP Photo/Jennifer Foster
The barefoot homeless man who was photographed being given a pair of winter boots by a New York City police officer on a cold November night has actually been living rent-free in an apartment since late last year, the city said Tuesday.
Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond had no doubt that the man captured in a tourist's picture receiving the boots from NYPD Officer Larry DePrimo was the same Jeffrey Hillman who had been on the city agency's radar for a while.
"We're sure because we've had such a sustained engagement with him for so many years," Diamond said.
That engagement started in the summer of 2009, when Hillman was first moved off the street and offered one of 900 beds that provide more specialized services than the agency's more traditional shelters, Diamond said.
"We keep offering, continuing to offer him services," Diamond said of Hillman. "Unfortunately we've had some setbacks along the way."
Hillman's federal benefits cover the cost of the apartment, where he's been living since late 2011, Diamond said. It's located in the Bronx, just a few miles north of the Times Square sidewalk where DePrimo found Hillman Nov. 14 without any shoes or socks and then rushed to buy him the boots at a nearby store.
In an interview with CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, DePrimo said seeing Hillman made him think of his grandfather's advice to do things "100 percent or don't do it at all."
"You could just see the blisters," DePrimo told Miller about Hillman. "You know, he was just walking on the palms of his feet there. And -- it was -- it upset me. And, so, I went up to him and I said, I was like, 'Buddy,' I was like, 'where's your -- where's your socks, where's your shoes?' He was like, 'It's OK, officer, I never had a pair of shoes.'"
Hillman receives some benefits because he served in the military, Diamond said. He's enrolled in a veteran-focused part of the housing voucher program known as Section 8 that's run by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Hillman also receives benefits from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, Diamond said, noting the apartment comes with case management services, which Hillman doesn't use.
A Homeless Services official said on background that Hillman is also a recipient of disability benefits through Social Security.
"The apartment is paid for," said Diamond. "What he needs is a more productive way to spend his life, and that's what we're trying to do with him."
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Diamond wasn't familiar with the specifics of Hillman's apartment, but he guessed it was a studio or a one-bedroom.
"It's I'm sure a modest apartment, but it's a private apartment, and it's similar to what thousands of New Yorkers live in, and in many ways Mr. Hillman is far better off" because it's subsidized, Diamond said.
Those subsidies come with a lifetime guarantee, the commissioner said, with the goal of providing a foundation for recipients like Hillman to improve their lives and not have to resort to panhandling.
"He doesn't have to panhandle for fear of the subsidy ending at the end of the month or next year," Diamond said.
Still, keeping Hillman from living on the streets has proven to be difficult, even after his sudden exposure in the national spotlight. During the weekend, The New York Times found him on the Upper West Side, without the boots DePrimo gave him.
"Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money," Hillman told the newspaper. "I could lose my life."
Diamond said he hoped that Hillman's story wouldn't discourage people from helping panhandlers, noting that people in need require a range of services, not just housing.
"They might have housing," said Diamond, "but that's not the end of story."
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