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Occupy Denver profile: Neil Therrell bundles up for the cold

Neil Therrell doesn't know what day it is. More than that, even: He has no idea. His first guess is October 22, and when he is told that was last Saturday, he appears skeptical and asks what day of the week it is.

Therrell is more behind than most, but unlike many huddled around a space heater on the sidewalk today, he's not cold.

He owes this, at least in part, to two plastic trash bags he has manipulated to surround both his socks and the outsides of his tennis shoes to block snow. Above his plastic-wrapped feet is a pair of regular pants covered by snow pants, and above that is a short-sleeve shirt, then a long-sleeve shirt, then a jacket and then a coat. On his head, he wears a beanie and two hoods.

Neil Therrell wears more layers than an onion.
Neil Therrell wears more layers than an onion.
Kelsey Whipple

Walking into a downtown Starbucks to ask for hot water, he tracks in what must be at least a gallon of the stuff, albeit the cold, dirty kind. The woman behind him in line, who wears high-heeled boots in the snow, cracks a joke about his get-up. "Stay warm!" she says mockingly.

"That kind of thing sets me off," Therrell admits once outside the coffee shop. "We're taking a stand in a freezing environment. People tell us all the time to go away, to get a job, but I lost mine."

Therrell spent more than two decades of his life in Albuquerque, where his most recent job was as a mechanic for Valvoline. The 27-year-old was laid off in July, and he moved to Denver the same month to introduce change into his life. He has been homeless since then, but he has been homeless before.

The first time, he was 23. He worked for a call center in New Mexico at the time, and a car accident meant he had to take medical leave, though he couldn't afford to go to the hospital. He came away with a herniated disc but no job: The call center follows a strict policy against rehiring.

"I lived under a bridge with eleven blankets in negative twenty-degree weather, and I've been colder than this before," Terrell says. "Jobs just aren't a permanent thing anymore. The only way the occupation will learn how to deal with the cold is through direct experience."

In the occupation he has been a part of for 23 days, Terrell serves on the events and security committees, which means he spends many of his nights monitoring the gathering and its belongings. For what it's worth, he maintains few of his own, though this fact fluctuates depending upon where his life is. Three years ago, he says, he had a Hyundai Elantra -- the epitome of riches in comparison to how much walking he now does.

"I've had nice things, but materialistic shit doesn't last," Terrell says. "I always seem to end up losing it all."

More from our Occupy Denver archives: "Occupy Denver: Two hospitalized overnight for exposure to the cold."


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