"Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money."
With those few words, 54-year-old Jeffrey Hillman says a lot.
The New York Times this morning follows up on one of last week's most poignant stories. Its reporters found the barefoot homeless man who was given a pair of boots by New York City Police officer Lawrence DePrimo — an act of kindness that was captured on camera and afterward ricocheted around the Internet.
The Times says the man is Hillman, who has lived on the streets of the city for most of the past decade. And Hillman, who the Times writes "was by turns aggrieved, grateful and taken aback by all the attention that had come his way," tells the newspaper that he's walking around barefoot again because the boots are too valuable to wear all of the time.
"I could lose my life," he says. Someone might kill him for the footwear.
According to the Times, Hillman says he's an Army veteran and has a "worn veteran's identification card that confirmed his service."
That connection to the military isn't mentioned in a story from the New York Post, which found some of Hillman's family. According to the Post, the homeless man's brother, Kirk Hillman, lives in Allentown, Pa., and is a leader at the city's Greater Shiloh Church. Another brother, Alfred, is a college professor in Texas, according to the Post. It writes that:
"Kirk Hillman, looked stunned as he saw a copy of The Post with his youngest brother on the front page — and was left speechless. Hillman's wife told The Post she followed the story on TV — but never recognized the bedraggled beggar as her own brother-in law, Jeffrey Hillman. 'The last time we heard from him was maybe a year ago on New Year's Day,' said Tish Hillman. ...
" 'Jeffrey has his own life, and he has chosen that life, but he knows that our hearts and home are always open to him,' said Alegra Hall, Kirk Hillman's daughter, a producer in Maryland. 'He knows that, he's well aware of that.' "
This story reminded us of the tale of Ted Williams, the homeless man in Columbus, Ohio, who in January 2011 got national attention for his golden voice. That led to appearances on TV and a job doing voiceovers for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese commercials. He also, though, went in and out of rehab.
As recently as last month, Williams was looking great when he spoke to veterans in Dayton, Ohio. "I hope I can inspire them," he said of the veterans. Williams also said he's writing a book.