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It's a touching story, even if not quite true

Saturday, December 8, 2012 - 12:01 am

It’s the kind of touching story the press just loves and serves up with syrupy over-the-top sentimentality over the holiday season: Cop in big, tough city sees homeless man in his bare feet on a cold day. Cop buys homeless man boots with his own money. Tourist snaps photo just as the cop presents homeless man with boots. Everybody goes “awwwww.”

But then the homeless man, identified as Jeffrey Hillman, was spotted wandering around Manhattan without the boots given to him by New York Police Department Officer Larry DePrimo. He said he had hidden them because they cost a lot of money, and he didn’t feel safe wearing them. Then he complained about all the attention he was getting, and he wanted “a piece of the pie” because the picture of him was being used without his permission.

Then it was revealed that Hillman isn’t even homeless. He used to be, but he got an apartment in the Bronx secured by Veterans Affairs in 2011, and the city’s homeless services commissioner said they’ve been “working with” the man for years. He pays rent out of his Social Security payments, and he likes to panhandle without shoes. He’s been in and out of trouble with police over the years.

One lesson we might take from all this is that anybody we find on the street is likely to have a troubled life, and we can’t help such people if they don’t really want help.

But we shouldn’t forget that the cop in this story cared enough to do something, making the “serve and protect” motto something to live by. So it still counts as a heartwarming holiday story.