No, Giving Shoes to a Homeless Person Does Not Work

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


There are three classes of homeless people. Those who were forced to be by circumstances, this is the smallest category. Those who are cadging money, but actually do live somewhere, some of these make out quite well, especially if they fake injuries, professional beggar style. And the third and largest category consists of the mentally ill and drug addicts who make up the largest section of New York City’s homeless population.

The photo of a NYPD officer buying shoes for a homeless man was touching and pointless. Now the shoes, which cost 100 dollars, are predictably gone.

 The $100 pair of boots that Officer DePrimo had bought for him at a Skechers store on Nov. 14 were nowhere to be seen.

“Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money,” Mr. Hillman said in an interview on Broadway in the 70s. “I could lose my life.”

Mr. Hillman, 54, was by turns aggrieved, grateful and taken aback by all the attention that had come his way — even as he struggled to figure out what to do about it.

“I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission. What do I get?” he said. “This went around the world, and I want a piece of the pie.”

Hid them is one possibility. Sold them is another.

This is what happens when you try to pluck homeless people off the street or help them. Most of them cannot be helped because they are not sane. Many of them are subject to fits of paranoia, like the one that led to a Korean-American being pushed under a subway a few days ago.

You are dealing with people who are substance abusers and/or mentally ill. But they are also not nearly as poor or hopeless as they appear. The boots gentleman is familiar with YouTube. That doesn’t mean he’s not homeless, but it does mean that he has computer access. He’s not starving and while he is pushing his health at risk by walking around with bare feet, that’s his decision and it remained his decision even after he got new boots.

As usual the score is, Homeless 1, Humanitarian 0.

  • Mary Sue

    This can all be left at the feet of idiot leftists who demanded that the mental health rules that allowed such insane people (that now wander under the moniker "homeless") to be locked up because they were, well, insane, claiming that to imprison them, unless they were clearly a danger to themselves and others, in places like Riverview Hospital in Burnaby was a violation of their civil right to go and do what they pleased. Hundreds and thousands of beds in such hospitals were closed over a 20 year period all across the United States and Canada. Coincidentally, suddenly we get a problem with "homelessness" that in previous eras would have been simply a few wandering hobos from the Depression.

    These days a mentally ill person can be a danger to themselves and others and still won't get put in the rubber room with the straight jacket.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      And then blame the right for budget cuts as the root cause. If we just had enough money budgeted, we'd give them the magic pills that are now saved for the 1%.

      I hate those 1%ers. They ruin everything!

  • Mary Sue

    eh, left out a word, demanded the mental health rules be changed

    • tagalog

      The case decision is O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975), which holds that it is a violation of a mentally ill person's rights to incarcerate him or her involuntarily in a mental health facility unless that person is a threat to self or others.

      Of course, without observation, it is usually impossible to tell whether or not a person is a danger to self or others. But since you can't put these folks under observation without their consent, you can't find out, so they walk around on the street until something happens to take them out. Life expectancy on the street is on the short side.

      The good news is that consent is more forthcoming in the late fall as it begins to turn cold. They're not so crazy that they'll choose freezing to death under some bridge over a mental ward and three hots and a cot. Usually at the same time of year, the petty crime rate for shoplifting, trespass to private property, drinking in public, defecating/urinating in public, goes up. Ninety days in the county jail if you time it right will get you through the worst of the winter.

      • Mary Sue

        I don't recall if there was a similar case in Canada but rather a leftist change in policy (this was during the Trudeau years so I'm guessing this was fuelled by Liberal legislators in Canada rather than a court case but I could be mistaken.)

  • tagalog

    It was good that the policeman bought the guy a pair of boots instead of just giving him money.

    Selling the boots while demanding a "piece of the pie" is pretty consistent with the derelict mind set. When I heard that, I expected (and still expect) that somebody else will provide him with a $600 pair of replacement boots immediately. Selling those will get him a good supply of booze or drugs or both.

    I applaud the homeless guy wanting "a piece of the pie." All he has to do is comport himself like the homeless guy with the great voice a few months ago, and he WILL get a piece of the pie. For three days. Then he'll be discarded. But he'll have a few bucks until he blows it or gets robbed.

    Until then, he'll get replacement boots along with a shower, a warm bed with fresh sheets, and a couple of hot meals at the nearest homeless shelter.

    • Mary Sue

      sounds like the dude was part of Homeless Occupy Wall Street

    • vanessa

      he hid the shoes because he would get killed in his sleep for those shoes if another homeless person or maybe even a non homeless person saw him wearing them. And if I was homeless i would rather have food then be "famous"

  • JimG33

    As an activist in the "Deinstallation Movement" back in the seventies stories like this haunt me. Bring back the "snake pits", at least the patients didn't freeze during the winter.

    • tagalog

      As a psychiatric nurses' aide in a county hospital, I know what those so-called "snake pits" were REALLY like back in the 1970s. Some of us were heartbroken when the standard for involuntary admission became "danger to self or others." We knew we were going to have to send those people, not back to their "homes" as the Supreme Court had said in Donaldson, but back to the wolf packs and life in a state of nature. But movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and false stereotypes were the conventional wisdom, so we in the mental hospital care business just HAD to be alcoholic, half-mental abusive thugs ourselves.

      And the ACLU kept talking about how the communities would have "half-way houses" for the mentally ill, to keep the worst from them. But of course those halfway houses were never built, so it was life living in the public park and under the bridge for the deinstitutionalized mentally ill. And, of course, no one could make the mentally ill live in the few halfway houses that did exist without their consent, either.

      • Mary Sue

        I think the falsehoods perpetuated with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest" (which was a book before it ever was a movie IIRC) didn't help in that regard. People see things in a movie and assume it's the same for real life.

        • tagalog

          The interesting thing is that, at that time, a significant number of the psychiatric nurses' aides in government hospitals like the one I worked in were conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War, people whose compassion and gentleness, along with a uniformly high level of education (often in psychology), and willingness to blow the whistle on abuse, could not be surpassed. In the 1970s, the quality of ward life, i.e., daily life, for mental patients was about as high as could be in those "snake pits." It certainly wasn't Paradise, but it wasn't Bedlam either. The Kesey book and the movie were pretty insulting and an outright lie in the 1970s.

  • Jan

    I'm sure the cop will be rewarded for his goodness, but until the man changes INSIDE, his circumstances remain unchanged. The garret of the soul.

  • Ghostwriter

    It's a shame. The police officer did a good thing. Too bad that creep couldn't have been a little more grateful. What a jerk.

    • tagalog

      Don't be too hard on the derelict. He's just being what derelicts are, contrary, thoughtless, and probably not in his right mind due to being mental or on dope or booze, or some combination thereof. There's a reason why he is where he is, and it probably doesn't have much to do with bad luck and bad breaks.

      • jakespoon

        The officer did what he thought was right,what he was led to do by his conscience ,good for him, The other guy did, too. Some people can't be helped.

  • victor

    These people do not know gratitude. They are fully aware that they want something for free. I am glad that there are people willing to help others who need it, on the other hand none of them deserve the help. We all felt happiness with the thought that this decent police officer did, while we are disgusted that that same man receiving the help does not deserve it. Let him freeze to death, he just spit in the eye of an angel by his attitude.

    • Kim

      Clearly, you do not understand mental illness and brain disorders. Society would never think of throwing an angry, disruptive, ungrateful Alzheimer's patient into the street, but change that diagnosis to Schizophrenia or bi-polar, or some other disorder and boy oh boy, people turn into clueless – ungrateful for their own sanity – jerks.
      Shame on you. Shame.

  • Thomas Wells

    If the insane were placed in asylums, Washington DC would be a ghost town.

    • Angela Thorne

      Well said Thomas!

    • Mary Sue

      The inmates are running the asylum.

  • BLJ

    Should have used the shoes to kick him in the butt.

  • broken arrow

    Whatever the homeless man did with the boots , no matter what he said or feels or how he chooses to live his life , the story was about and act of charity , human kindness , nothing expected in return , no strings attached . There are thousands upon thousands of homeless in the country , some beggars some scammers some with good reason and others not . How many are there like the cop ? $100 Bucks is nothing to sneeze at . His was an act of love and human compassion to put it frankly , and it will never be forgotten by that homeless man , nor will it be diminished in any way by the homeless man's action or behavior afterwards . What matters is how the gift was given not how it was recieved The cynics will always be chagrined at how the story seems to have ended . But that cops light will shine on .

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Whatever the homeless man did with the boots , no matter what he said or feels or how he chooses to live his life , the story was about and act of charity , human kindness , nothing expected in return , no strings attached."

      I agree that is an aspect of the story. In terms of the politics of domestic spending on charity, it illustrates the risks of having good intentions and failing. And who am I to say that the taxpayers must fund some charity I believe in? This officer apparently put his own money in to it, and had the most interest to make it work out for the best. We can't have this "the sky's the limit" mentality when it comes to assistance. Liberals never want to acknowledge that. It's also why liberals tend to do and give so little personally, though obviously there are huge exceptions to that rule. It is still nonetheless generally true.

      I've spent a lot of time wondering how to help the homeless, and the current handout systems don't do much in that direction. I think work, training and just guidance counseling in isolated camps would be a great idea. That way when someone does start to do well, it will be harder to run scams on those trying to help them. I don't know though, there are probably just as many ways for that to fail. My biggest worry is that we now create incentives for people to give up long before they would otherwise, for a number of reasons. More money does not solve all problems.

    • tagalog

      In my town we have a bicycle mechanic who goes around and collects broken bicycles. He fixes them up at his own expense and then gives them to the derelicts of our town so that they can get around without having to walk everywhere. Sounds truly kind, doesn't it?

      But the derelicts are known to take those bicycles that are given to them and turn around and sell them for drugs or booze.

      So this guy, who's motivated by the best of motivations, is he a good guy for having good intentions, or is he a bad guy for enabling the derelicts to keep on drinking and drugging? Is he doing them a favor or a disservice?

  • BS77

    I was wondering how long the poor man would have his new boots….before he lost them or sold them and went barefoot again…This is obviously a mentally ill person….and needs far more than shoes.

  • broken arrow

    This was obviusly not a political matter but an extremely personal matter . Attempts to co-opt this into political or ideological banter are not only not fair , but not right . It is what it is , and that being a single act of human kindness one to another , which happened to be recorded .
    There was no qualification on the part of the homeless man , required to recieve anothers act of charity . It has no political or ideological metaphors . It is not an instruction on how the homeless should be treated .

  • Graham Ford

    Let me suggest what does work. I met a homeless person last January who,unusually, was reading a book, about science. I asked him what he was reading. We got talking about our lives, and then he said, 'What I need is someone to teach me.' I found myself relying, 'I will teach you, but I will also teach you about life.' 11 months on, and he is back with his family. The 15 (!) government agencies trying to bring order out of the chaos of that seven member family now have little do. The whole family comes to church, eats together, and say grace before meals, and are reading their Bible. He is at college learning electrical and electronic engineering, and no more heroin is being taken by either mum or dad. What did I do? Listen and do what a Jewish carpenter once said: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto us.' 'What did he do? The same thing.

  • broken arrow

    You seem to miss the point . Use this story but in hypothetical situation . The cop knowing that its very cold , in fact his own feet with socks and shoes feels it . He is moved by compassion at seeing this guy sitting there , no shoes no socks . Is the cop there to teach a lesson ? Does the cop seek some sort of gratification in that this man may start a "new life " , or does he need to see any improvement beyond a relief on a cold night ?
    Now give the cop a prescience to see into this mans into the future , he sees the man selling the boots for another bottle of liquor or drugs whatever the vice , should that have deterred him from his actr of kindness ? Does a simple act of kindness need to , in the cops mind , have some visible justification for his act ?
    Yours is a great story with a great ending , but it is a rarity . Mazlo's Law – a person needs food ,shelter and clothing to survive the immediate future ,and without those primary needs being met , for that person there is no future .

  • broken arrow

    Mazlo's law – a person needs food , shelter and clothing to survive .On a cold night you offer a man with no shoes – not a lesson , but a pair of shoes.

  • fubar

    this guy isn't even homeless. he's living in housing subsidized by US the taxpayer.
    http://moonbattery.com/?p=21933

  • Brujo Blanco

    I had a family member who tried to help a homeless man. I located a facility for him and all he had to don was get on a bus. He changed his mind stating that he was not going to be permitted to smoke or drink in his room there. Also, I located his son and he turned that down. He finally said he did not want anyone telling him what to do. This guy was a man of leisure. He took up residence innan abandoned car in the woods.

  • bob kelly

    My daughter just saw the man on west 40 street with the boots on he said he was wearing them just to prove he did not sell them

  • Bama girl

    The cop who provided the shoes, will have his blessing on this earth or in heaven. He was listening to the voice of God and being obedient. It is not our place to decide whether the person deserves the gift or judge what they do with that gift. This whole discussion on the homeless man is just how the devil steals people's joy in helping others. The feeling you get for helping someone and the reward that God has in store for you is what should not be overlooked in this story.

  • Pedro Quedas

    Wow… You’re an awful person in ways that I struggle to even conceive. In case you wonder why conservatives are such a growing lightning rod of criticism, this is why.

  • Pedro Quedas

    Wow… You’re an awful person in ways that I struggle to even conceive. In case you wonder why conservatives are such a growing lightning rod of criticism, this is why.

  • George

    Congratulations, You brought a whole new meaning to short-sightedness… You sir are the one with mental illness and/or substance abuse!
    Do us all a favour, turn a homeless, and reject all the help given to you and DIE