Poverty and homelessness is a big problem in this country, no doubt. But we’re becoming callous toward the poor. We know that there are plenty of social services and programs for those in need. In most cities, no matter how poor you are you don’t have to live on the streets – not anymore. There’s welfare and food stamps. There are shelters and food kitchens. We’ve come a long way since the days of The Great Depression. And we’ve gotten to a point where some people scoff at those…the “takers” of society who’d rather shirk their responsibilities and live off the generosity of others.
And so our growing skepticism and cynicism causes us believe it when we hear apocryphal stories of beggars at street intersections who at the end of the day drive off in a Cadillac. We get to thinking that if not all, then most homeless people we see are homeless by choice and probably a lot better off than they’re letting on. They’re poor because they want to be!
Recently, a picture made the rounds on the internet. It was shot by a tourist in New York City. This tourist happened to witness an event where a police officer in Manhattan gave a barefoot homeless man a pair of boots. The cop bought the $75 boots out of is own pocket. The photograph “went viral” as it is called and the story made the national news. The officer was justifiably lauded for his generosity and we all felt the warm glow of one human being kind to another. A true holiday “feel good” story.
Well, you know the expression, no good deed goes unpunished.
The headline: Homeless man spotted shoeless again! What the deuce? His explanation was that he could be killed for such expensive shoes and so he “hid” them in a safe place. Hey, in New York City that actually makes sense. If you’re sleeping on the streets and you have on a nice pair of shoes, they very well might be stolen from you before you wake up…*IF* you wake up at all. When I saw the original picture I said, “Nice try, officer, but those shiny new Redwing boots aren’t going to last more than a couple of days before somebody steals them.”
It gets worse. The local media found out who the “Homeless Guy” is and did a more in-depth investigation on him than a certain Barack Obama was subjected by Republicans to when he announced he was going to run for president. And it turns out, according to the New York Daily News that, “Homeless Guy,” aka Jeffry Hillman is not so homeless after all. Turns out, he’s got an apartment in another part of the city and receives money from the federal government for housing, Social Security disability and veteran’s benefits. Hillman was in the U.S. Army. Does he have to live barefoot on the streets, panhandling for money? Nope.
You think there’s a lot of homeless in your town? New York City has a whole Department of Homeless Services. And they know Jeffrey Hillman. A spokesperson for the NYCDHS says that Hillman has repeatedly turned down their services and offers of help. Hillman’s family was contacted; his brother said that Jeffrey had not been in touch with them lately and that he “preferred this way of life.”
And so we are left feeling empty…feeling cheated by a phony homeless person…again! For some, it will reinforce the impression that the majority of "homeless panhandlers" are nothing more than scam-artists. Because every time something like happens it makes us just a little bit more cynical and indifferent to the plight of the truly poor and needy. And that's sad.
At the end of the day, no matter how anyone else acts, WE still have to act in a Christian way. And despite hearing disheartening stories like this latest, we must not let that stop us from performing acts of charity for those less fortunate than us. As my blogger friend Debby points out, we ARE our brother’s keeper. For some of us, that will never change, even with all the scam artists in the world. But they don't make it easy.
For the Daily News story on Hillman click HERE