Homeless Man Given Footwear By Cop in Viral Photo Likely Had to Sell Boots

Last week, a picture of a New York City police officer giving a homeless man boots and warm socks went viral on the Internet. The NYPD posted the photo to its Facebook page. And everywhere you looked--from the front pages of daily papers to Facebook and Twitter--you saw the image of the New York Police Department (NYPD) member helping out the homeless man. But it turns out the story doesn’t have a warm and fuzzy ending.

While everyone was soothed by the sight of NYPD member Lawrence DePrimo helping out a poor man, what came next is a reminder of the reality of being homeless in New York City. The latest news is that the man, identified as Jeffrey Hillman, was seen by The New York Times out and about in Manhattan--without the shoes. Hillman told the Times that those “shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money.” Clearly, Hillman has already sold or plans to sell the shoes he was given by DePrimo.

Hillman also told the New York Times that he “want[s] a piece of the pie,” meaning some money given that his face was all over YouTube, Facebook and other places.

No one should fault Hillman for wanting to profit from DePrimo’s niceness. Hillman lives in a city with extreme inequality, and where the poor are often an afterthought, particularly for a mayor who is one of the richest men in the country.

The twist to Hillman’s story is a reminder that charity can only go so far. The only real cure for a skyrocketing homeless rate and inequality that produces people like Hillman are political solutions that seek to put people before profit.

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