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The Globe and Mail

Homeless man barefoot again despite officer’s gift of boots

New York police officer Larry DePrimo gives a homeless man a pair of boots and socks in Times Square in this November 14, 2012 handout photo courtesy of Jennifer Foster.

Jennifer Foster/Reuters

The feel good story of the holiday season has taken a new and depressing turn.

Late last week, the story of a New York City police officer buying a new, $100 pair of shoes for a barefoot homeless man warmed the hearts of everyone with an Internet connection. Or so it seemed, given the story's online popularity.

While the officer has been lauded by the media and has been praised by the city's Police Commissioner, the identity of the homeless man he helped remained a mystery, until now.

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A reporter for The New York Times was able to find the man, whose name is Jeffrey Hillman, and who is still walking the streets barefoot.

"Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money," Hillman told the reporter. "I could lose my life."

Hillman, 54, who hails from New Jersey, said he moved to New York almost a decade ago and has been homeless for most of that time.

The experience of being at the centre of an international story that was triggered by a tourist snapping a photo of officer Lawrence DePrimo giving Hillman a new pair of shoes and socks has clearly left Hillman feeling like he deserves more than he has so far received.

"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."

But he also said he was very grateful for DePrimo's generosity.

"I appreciate what the officer did, don't get me wrong," he said. "I wish there were more people like him in the world."

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Later in the interview, he added, ""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."

A U.S. Army veteran, Hillman would not discuss with the newspaper how he became homeless.

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