Shoes for the Homeless Guy

deprimo-homelessI’m sure you all remember the picture to the left, as it went viral.Taken a couple of weeks ago, it shows NYPD officer Larry DePrimo giving a homeless man a pair of boots. Since it was published, more information has come out about DePrimo and the homeless man, Jeffrey Hillman, causing some backlash. People were not thrilled that Hillman was seen a few days after the picture was taken without the shoes. When asked, he said he hid them because they were valuable. It also didn’t sit well when we found out that Hillman is not homeless, having an apartment he got through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and that he had turned down help from both family and social services. Not only that, but that Hillman has a history of run ins with police for drugs, harassment, theft and more. Worst of all, he had the temerity to desire compensation for the use of his image, i.e. “a piece of the pie”. The nerve of some people.

I don’t want to say I’m uniquely qualified to speak on the subject of the poor and the homeless; I’m not. That honor would go to people like Hugh Hollowell, who runs Love Wins in Raleigh NC, and Aaron Reddin, on the board of directors for The One, Inc. What I know about homeless people comes from two sources: working with Hugh at Love Wins and 22 and 3/4 years as a firefighter in the city of Raleigh NC. You may wonder what my firefighting career has to do with anything, but firefighters, EMS workers and police are usually intimately familiar with the homeless community where they serve. Unfortunately, that familiarity all too often breeds contempt. I’m guilty of it, myself. About 6 or 7 years ago, there was a particular fellow on the street in my area named…, well, I won’t use his real name, let’s just call him Richard. And, let me tell you, this guy pissed me off no end. Belligerent, mean and nasty, he was what is known as a “frequent flyer” in EMS circles, meaning he called us a lot. For a while, it seemed barely a shift went by without seeing Richard. One extremely hot summer day, we took him to the hospital 3 times in 6 hours (I tried to have him arrested, but the police wouldn’t do it). Once, he took a swing at a paramedic who was trying to help him. Like I said, a piece of work.

And, there lies the problem. People like Richard and Jeffrey Hillman are irritating, mean, troublesome and a general pain in the ass. In other words, they’ll never be considered a part of what’s known as the “virtuous poor”: single moms who fled abusive relationships with their kids, families who lost everything when the economy went in the toilet, etc. No, guys like Richard and Hillman are addicts, mentally challenged and, sometimes, just broken. Maybe even broken beyond repair. But, whether they’re beyond repair or not isn’t for me to decide. As a follower of Christ, I’m called to live as He lived. And, for Jesus, no one was broken beyond repair; not Samaritans, the sick, the poor, Gentiles, not even lepers. Therefore, it shouldn’t it matter what that Hillman did with the shoes. Or, that Richard wasn’t the nicest fellow on the street. As Aaron Reddin said so eloquently,

Jesus says to “give to anyone who asks.” 

I don’t think He was joking.  And I don’t think He gave us a right to give based on our perception (or prediction) of one’s heart and/or actions.”