The revelation that Hillman has a warm home and a bed to sleep in further complicated what at first seemed like a perfect feel-good tale for the holidays.
After the story of DePrimo’s generosity went viral, Hillman turned up again — still on the streets and still shoeless. He told a reporter he hid the boots that set DePrimo back $75 so they wouldn’t be stolen — an indication that, perhaps, he needs help beyond mere handouts.
Then the Daily News discovered Hillman had a loving, supportive family in Nazareth, Pa. — another sign that there is no easy fix for his predicament.
“Officer DePrimo’s kindness and generosity complemented an array of housing and support services provided by the city over the past several years,” said Brancaccio, the Homeless Services spokeswoman.
From the summer of 2009 until late 2011, Hillman lived in city-operated transitional housing sites called “Safe Havens.”
The accommodations, Brancaccio said, are geared toward “the chronic street homeless population.”
Then, Hillman secured housing through a Department of Veterans Affairs program that provides rental assistance and other aid to homeless veterans, according to Brancaccio. The program comes with a wide array of social services, including drug and alcohol counseling and mental health treatment.
Life wasn’t always so difficult for the central New Jersey native, who decades ago was a popular class clown and athlete.
Yearbook photos from Hillman’s days at South Plainfield High School show a sharp-looking, keen-eyed student.
A close friend from his youth, the Rev. John Graf Jr., remembered Hillman as a lanky goof, a basketball player and a gym rat who always hung out in the Police Athletic League building. “He had the best dribble of any player on the team — he could dribble around anybody,” said Graf, noting he was tight with Hillman from fourth grade until Hillman enlisted in the Army after high school.
“I never thought I’d open up a newspaper and see that the guy I played with in my own backyard swimming pool, and in high school games would be on the streets of New York.”
After reading about Hillman on Monday, Graf created the Jeffrey Hillman Survivors Fund, pledging to track down the homeless friend, get him care and stick with him through thick and thin.
“It’s not fair, but a lot of things in life aren’t fair,” said Graf through tears. “But I’m not going to sit back and just let him be another homeless person.”