The Lookout

Man given boots by NYPD officer: Street life ‘my choice’

A New York City police officer giving boots to a homeless man on Nov. 14 (NYPD/Facebook)

First he was spotted barefoot in Times Square by a police officer who bought him a pair of boots--a moment captured in a heartwarming photo taken by a tourist, posted on Facebook and shared by hundreds of thousands of people.

Then he was spotted barefoot again on the Upper West Side by the New York Times. ("Those shoes are hidden," he said. "They are worth a lot of money—I could lose my life.")

Then the Daily News reported the man people assumed was homeless wasn't homeless at all--and has a Bronx apartment paid for via a combination of rent vouchers, Social Security and military veteran benefits.

Now Jeffrey Tillman--the 54-year-old man at the center of this ongoing, made-for-a-slow-news-day story--says that despite access to federally subsidized shelter, it's his choice to wander the streets.

"I guess you could say I am hard-headed," Tillman told the Daily News for a front-page story published on Sunday.

The South Plainfield, N.J.-native and estranged father of two confirmed what the man's brother, Kirk Hillman, and others said last week: Family and various city organizations have tried for years to help him, but he's turned them all down.

"We love our brother very much," Kirk Hillman said. "Our door is always open to him, but this is a lifestyle he's chosen."

Jeffrey Hillman, who told the tabloid he was diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic, came to New York in 2000.

"It was my choice," he said. "Being on the street since then was my choice, too. When I was in the Army, I could have said I was homeless, too. Same thing to me."

Hillman, who was wearing the boots when he spoke to the Daily News, said he's grateful NYPD's Lawrence DePrimo gift.

"A police officer on duty was willing to take his time to help me," Hillman said. "It blew my mind."

And despite reports to the contrary, Hillman claims he does use his apartment--to sleep.

"I'm just out here doing what I'm doing because that's how I know how to do it," he said.