The unraveling of the stories we want to believe

Somewhere out there — probably within a few blocks’ walk of where you are — there’s a down-and-out person who needs a helping hand.

Jeffrey Hillman might be the reason he/she doesn’t get one.

Hillman is the apparently homeless man without shoes who was the beneficiary of the kindness of New York police officer Larry DePrimo, who spent his own money buying the guy some news boots and socks.

Over the weekend, the New York Times found Hillman has already jettisoned the boots because they’re valuable. And today it was determined that Hillman isn’t homeless, either. He lives in a rent-free apartment from the federal benefits he gets for being a vet.

New York Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond, however, knows what a lot of folks might be thinking. “They might have housing,” Diamond tells CBS News, “but that’s not the end of story.” Diamond said he hopes the fact that Hillman isn’t the helpless homeless person the original story suggested he was doesn’t discourage people from helping those who really are.

Is it disappointing that part of the story has unraveled? Sure. But it was first and foremost the story of a cop who cared.

It’s also a troubling tale of a guy who had his life together, and then didn’t.

  • BJ

    “The revelation that Hillman has a warm home and a bed to sleep in further complicated what at first seemed like a perfect feel-good tale for the holidays.” from

    I’m not disappointed and I don’t think the story unraveled. I also don’t think it was a ‘feel-good’ story.

    The guy had no shoes. A great guy gave him some. That was the story. Just because we know more about the man who had no shoes, doesn’t make the story about giving the shoes less of a story.

    Now if the Cop feels like he wouldn’t do it again, because of these revelations, that is the angle that could break my heart. Please NO reporters ask him because I don’t want to know.

  • Jeff

    I keep granola bars in my car to give to people who stand at the side of the road, asking for help. I don’t ask them if they are hungry first. Everyone needs help sometimes. For example, if they are rich but just found out they have cancer, they need help (kindness, meals delivered to their home so they don’t have to spend time cooking, etc.). We shouldn’t look at what a person has or doesn’t have to determine if they they need help – we should look at the situation they are in and give them help if they need it. Officer DePrimo did the right thing and I hope that others won’t stop helping people who need help just because Mr. Hillman wasn’t homeless. He still needed help.

  • Joanna

    “There, but for fortune, go you or I…”

    For very good reasons, there are laws that prevent the state from institutionalizing people against their will, even if they are mentally ill. Yet, many people who are unable to care for themselves are not ” a danger to themselves or others,” and therefore are living, public reminders of the fact that we will prioritize military spending and tax cuts over humane health care for all. Specifically, there is a severe shortage of psychiatrists and access to mental health services, in Minnesota as well, that has gone on for decades. Mr Hilman may have a place to sleep, but I wonder if he has the medication and care he might need.

  • Sue

    Having a personal experience of a brother with a mental illness it is incredibly hard to get that person to get help. Almost impossible.

    At 54 the court finally intervened and got brother help. He is in a group home and he is on medication. I can’t say he is better in some ways while on the medication but at least he isn’t hurting himself and behaving irrationally.

  • Roger

    Jeff: Beautifully said. I need to get a stash of granola bars in my car and backpack.Good way to show that you recognize their humanity.

  • allie

    Had an uncle. Paranoid-schizophrenic and homeless until he was killed over a fight about money.

    You can’t force someone to get help unless they’re ready to get help. And they kind of help they want might not be the kind of help you think they need.

    He was happy where he was. Who were we to judge?