Some people may have difficulty understanding why Jeffrey Hillman won’t wear the new pair of shoes he received from a New York City policeman? Anyone familiar with life on the streets knows that this Good Samaritan’s gift to Hillman was perhaps not the best thing Officer DePrimo could have done for him. Hillman feared that the expensive shoes made him a target for those who prey on the homeless in our society.
No doubt Hillman has seen much on the streets in terms of the violence perpetrated against those least able to defend themselves against predators — the homeless, elderly, disabled, young children and women. Although well meaning, Officer DePrimo evidently forgot about the real life street dangers that he sees daily on his job. His heart was in the right place. It would have been better, however, had Officer DePrimo bought Hillman a meal or offered to take him to a homeless shelter for the night.
Chronic homelessness is a continuing epidemic in this country, the wealthiest nation (despite our borrowed debt) on earth. Hillman may not have liked being in the spotlight; but if it helped to focus attention on the nearly one million persons in this country who share his predicament, his 15 minutes of fame was worth every minute. The numbers of homeless persons has certainly grown in the wake of economic, social and environmental upheavals in the last decade. People who never thought they would ever find themselves homeless and on the streets are now without a permanent residence or place of shelter at night.
Who are the homeless? You’d be surprised to know that they are not all derelicts, mentally ill or drug and alcohol addicted; many have college degrees, have served their country in wartime, have middle class backgrounds, have owned a home and had a job at some point in time. There is a well worn expression that “We are all just one paycheck away from being homeless.” Whether that’s true or not, homelessness can affect anyone under the right circumstances. It is no respector of race, gender or social pedigree.
Acts of kindness like Officer DePrimo’s are not uncommon especially at this time of the year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. These holidays, in particular, seem to bring out the best in most of us. The hearts of ordinary people seem to go out to the less fortunate among us. We become more generous, more giving, more compassionate and more aware of the needs of our neighbors. Most communities in the U.S. have some type of state or federally funded program to provide assistance to their local homeless population. But most states will admit that current funding levels are not nearly enough to eradicate the problem. Community and faith-based groups have set up temporary shelters, soup kitchens and clothing exchanges, but they could also use more donations and more volunteers to help out.
The Bible story of the Good Samaritan provides a clear response to this question asked of Jesus, “Which man is the real neighbor?” Jesus responded, “The one who shows pity on his neighbor.” Officer DePrimo certainly demonstrated that he is a good Samaritan. Imagine what would happen in this country if the song, “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother,” became our national anthem as well as our personal commitment?