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He's homeless, but never homely

Dury Miller keeps up appearances, even in a tent city. And, hey, watch the shoes.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published December 16, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - With each step, a cloud of dust swirls up, licking at the bottom of Dury Miller's shoes.

It's almost dinnertime at Pinellas Hope, the outdoor shelter that has become home to dozens of homeless people since it opened at the beginning of the month, and Miller is quickly getting agitated. Everyday he faces the same losing battle, one he is all too familiar with: how to keep his white sneakers clean.

The plastic garbage bags he ties around his ankles, enveloping the shoes, are not getting the job done.

"Dang," he mutters.

After nearly a lifetime in prison, Miller, 36, fears no man, woman, or hardship.

Uncleanliness, on the other hand, is another matter.

When he had a home, he spent an hour and half grooming in front of the mirror every morning before leaving the house.

His girlfriend began calling him "pretty boy." He couldn't even go to the corner store without first checking to make sure he looked stylish.

Much of the money he earned in his street hustles was spent expanding his wardrobe. Rocawear jeans. Air Force One sneakers. Piles of oversized white T-shirts.

At Pinellas Hope, he stores his small collection of urban couture in his tent.

The black Adidas match the camel suede shirt. The red and white Air Jordans complement his red shirt. The white Nikes are paired with the white T-shirts. He refuses to wear the same shoes two days in a row, even if he is homeless.

"I'm not going to let this bring my appearance down," he said.

His appearance, after all, is all he has.

He began selling crack cocaine as a teenager in Atlanta, his hometown. When he was 17, he said a group of men broke into his apartment to steal his drugs. They shot his girlfriend, his first love, in the face, instantly killing her. They shot him so many times, the bullets nearly sawed off his leg, he said.

He survived. His leg didn't.

His rage consumed him. He began cutting himself, lining his arm with the scars of his self-injuries.

He sold cocaine, got into fights, stole. From 1989 to 2002, he was in and out of Georgia prisons.

After he served his last sentence, he came to St. Petersburg and struggled to lead a normal life.

Miller says he stopped hustling nine months ago. He works as a cook at a St. Petersburg sandwich shop. It's his first legal job, he said.

It isn't enough to make ends meet. For seven months, he and his girlfriend stayed at different low-cost hotels.

On nights when they couldn't afford a room, they slept in shelters, on streets, in a coin laundry.

At Pinellas Hope, the other residents regularly chase Miller out of the bathroom.

They laugh when he wraps his shoes in the garbage bags. He shrugs off their taunts.

He knows he can't control how others see him, but at least he can try to look his best and stay clean.

It wouldn't be so hard, except his favorite color is white.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or


Pinellas Hope

Pinellas Hope is an outdoor shelter located off 49th Street N in unincorporated St. Petersburg. The shelter opened Dec. 1 and will close in April. For the next five months, the St. Petersburg Times will run occasional profiles on the men and women who call Pinellas Hope home.

[Last modified December 15, 2007, 21:55:24]

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