Barb’d Wire: Housing First.

Barb’d Wire : Housing First                 by Ralph Gagliardo.


    Social experiments across the nation are supporting the idea that housing first, as a model for reducing the numbers of chronically homeless, while sharply cutting the long term cost associated with them, really seems to work. Money dictates policy, and if cities large and small can save a few bucks, then the funding should a no-brainer. Of course we all know that nothing in gov’t is ever that simple, and whether it works or not, may be irrelevant. In my view, however, there is nothing to left to debate. The proof is in the results I have seen firsthand, in the dramatic turnaround of some of Hartford chronically homeless after they have been housed. I won’t name names…they know who they are.

    Allow me to quote on man who was homeless for approximately four years, before getting housing through this type of program, he said “ I never realized the kind of mental stress I was carrying around at all times, until after I got housed”. He went on to say that for the first three weeks he still had nightmares from the mental defenses he built up while struggling to survive on the mean streets for so long. Just take a moment and imagine how frightening it can actually be to be living day to day with constant uncertainty, and no stability from one day to the next.

    This is only one person’s testimony, but it still opens the window to the realities, and mental stresses, homeless people face all the time. I know of others, whose demeanor, hygiene, and even their personalities almost seemed to change overnight…after being housed. It is a beautiful sight to behold, when a person who has struggled for so long, get’s their own key, that goes to the lock on their very own apartment door.

    I will let the sociologist and policy makers debate the who, what, where, and why, of the financial and societal benefits if they choose to do so, as for my part, I will share my first observation. You see, I also know happen to know that studies do show two common factors that cut through, homelessness, recidivism, and addiction/recovery, and as it turns out the two factors are very closely connected.   

The first one has to do with feelings of connectedness. The more connected a person feels to others, statistics show, the more likely they are to succeed in overcoming one or all of these conditions. Pretty self-explanatory-I would say.

     The second factor is the one I am focusing on, and only because of my desire to play better poker. You see, it is one of those simple rules of behavior that every card shark, worth half his chip stack, is very well aware of. The rule is simple: The majority of the time, a person is more afraid to lose what he/she already has, and will not risk it, even for potential gain. In the retail industry it has a name “the endowment effect”. In simple terms, people view the world a little different when they feel like they have something to lose. It is like all of a sudden they have a reason to pay a little closer attention.

    Even in the solitary confinement blocks of some of the country’s toughest prisons, they understand this basic principle. Since some of their guest really did have nothing to lose, other than their prison life, they had to seek newer ideas on ways to reduce the number of inmates in segregation, they often found that by letting them get a taste of a certain luxury and exposing them to a sample of the benefits of staying out of seg. than they might be inclined to act accordingly. This was part of a successful program aimed at reducing the number of inmates in segregation, or solitary, and serves to emphasize the point. Recidivism studies show this as well. The more the parolees had to lose, the less likely they were to violate. Same also held true for terrorism suspects: When they were tortured the information was often unreliable, but when they gave prisoners some simple things, simple benefits, the net effect was one of gaining trust and the prisoners were often more cooperative, leading to more dependable intel.

     All these examples point to the same basic principle, and it does have a whole lot to do with trust. The chronically homeless, are folks who have not generally had the best experiences navigating the process or getting on the long section 8 list. They often will need help with things like getting proper I.D., filling out paperwork for E.B.T. or S.S.I., and many of them will have stories of promises they felt were not kept by these or other institutions. They will be skeptical, and for good reason.

    By taking the initiative and offering the chronically homeless housing first and foremost, it does a lot more for that individual than just putting a roof over their head, it changes the way they feel about life, restores their faith in the goodness of people, gives them a chance to restore their mental health, makes the feel invested in the community, and gives them something to care about…something to lose, and since nobody likes to lose what they already feel they own, they will generally take the actions necessary to protect and maintain that stake.

    The state’s idea is that it saves money just on trips to the E.R. alone, which is a costly and often unnecessary burden for taxpayers. Whatever the logic they choose to use to justify the upfront cost associated with these type of models– they need to keep using it. Housing first works. I don’t need any fancy statistics…I can see it in the faces…and the smiles…of the recipients of these initiatives. They are grateful; they have reason to hope.



Beat of the Street: The Idle American Part Two

Barb’d Wire

                                The Idle American–Part Two     by RJ Wordsmyth

…He relapsed the way addicts often due, and found himself back in prison. This had become part of a pattern that would continue on for many years. And so it did. Clean time in prison sometimes extended into clean time “out in the world” as the other inmates liked to call it. Sometimes he would stay clean for months at a time, but inevitably he would fall backwards, hit his head on something, and wake up in a cage.

    His family “out in the world” had all but given up on him. He received very few letters and almost no commissary, with the exception of twenty dollars from his mom every year on Christmas. Commissary is the store for inmates to get extra things that the state doesn’t provide, or doesn’t provide well. Commissary also cost money, the state allows it because they get a nice little piece of the action. On Christmas they come out with special items that are only available for a limited time, giving the state even more money around the holidays. Stuff like pre-cooked bacon, and Christmas tree shaped Little Debbies are only a sampling of the delicacies available for the man unlucky or deserving enough to be spending his holidays in one of the Dept. of Corrections specially designed cement suites.

    Our hero really could not afford such luxuries since he had no money coming in. Yet, still he was able to purchase them because he had discovered “a hustle.” Almost everyone in jail has a hustle. It is a way to survive, a way to get things you need; It is a job and a business. He had watched the others and so he knew what to do. He saw the artist, who would draw something truly amazing on an outgoing envelope, He saw the laundry worker who would charge you a small fee to fold your clothes, he saw the kitchen worker selling salt and pepper, and the tier man selling cleaning supplies or plastic bags, all with their own unique hustle. He knew what his hustle would be–he would write. Write poems, and letters to girlfriends and wives, and sometimes even the judge himself. By writing he thought “I will keep my mind sharp.”

    Soon his reputation as a man who could literally “put your thoughts into words” had spread throughout the entire dorm, and even into other dorms. On holidays like St. Valentine’s day he would be very busy writing custom poetry for the other inmates. Sometimes he would receive kites for work from the other side of the jail. Kites were messages that could go all the way from one end of the prison to the other end via the laundry or the kitchen workers. He would get some details about the little things everybody’s girls liked and incorporate them into his poems, giving them the idea that their boyfriend/husband wrote it specially just for them. He wrote convincing letters to the judges requesting leniency for any number of specific reasons. As time went on, he saved marriages, got men bonded out, saved people time on their sentences, convinced family or friends to send commissary money, and did custom request which included a whole myriad of other unique types of assorted random documentation.

    In doing so, had access to coffee (top priority), snacks, candy, cosmetics, and was able to contribute to group meals that would sometimes be prepared using food smuggled from the kitchen combined with food purchased on commissary.

…to be continued  

                           Read part three in next weeks edition of “Beat of the Street”                      


“Beat of the Street” article–The Idle American Part I

Barb’d Wire.                             

                     The Idle American–Part One      By RJ Wordsmyth.

I want to tell you a story. This is the story of a guy who lost his way, as sometimes people do. He grew up in the suburbs–this guy–and knew very little about the city life. He was an ambitious fellow with big dreams. He started his own business because he always wanted to be his own boss. He worked hard. He paid his taxes. He was, for all extensive purposes, your typical entrepreneurial American.

    At some point the economy took a downturn and his business went bust. This made him very depressed because he was losing all the stuff he worked so hard to build up. He had to sell all his equipment and the lenders foreclosed on his building. Twelve-plus years of hard work and it was all broken into pieces and sold off to the highest bidder. This made him very sad, but not angry, because he did not blame others, but took responsibility for making some poor choices. Still, there was things that were completely out of his control, like the recession, and this too he understood but could not change.

    Then all of a sudden–BOOM!! He got hurt in a car accident. He recovered fairly quickly from the accident, although his lower back would never be the same. In addition to the disability, he also had a new set of problems. Problems he neither understood, nor had any experience with. He became addicted to pain medication. When the physical therapy ended, and the doctors stopped writing scripts, he did something that he swore he would never do. He turned to street drugs. Opiates. Heroin. Dope.

    He never wanted to be an addict. He, like most young people, felt like he was invincible, like the world was there for the taking. He was an American, and everyone knows in America if you “work hard and play by the rules” you can slice off your own big fat piece of that oh-so-sweet American apple pie.

    Yet, there he was, out of money, out of work, no place to call home, and the worse part of it all–he was strung out on dope. He stayed in shelters, sometimes he slept in the park, in an abandoned building, or a burned out car. He didn’t want to stray to far from the city, because he was always within walking distance of a hot meal at one of the soup kitchens, and where he could always try to hustle up enough money to “get right.” Some mornings he woke up cold and dope sick, so he would get up just as the sun rose and try to panhandle a few dollars just so he could function. It was a hard life. Everything he knew about the American dream now–he put in a needle and shot into his arm.

     Then he got arrested. Arrested and sent to jail. This was long before they gave prisoners any type of medication to ease the suffering of a cold turkey heroin detox. They call it “cold turkey” because of the way your skin looks, and they call it “kicking” because you cannot control the way your legs jump around all night. As miserable as he was, and he was truly miserable, he saw others who were coming off large doses of methadone–and they were even worse. Some would not eat a scrap of food for thirty days. Some even attempting to take their own lives, due to the unbearable nature of a methadone detox. It was his first offense so he didn’t get too much time. And he swore on everything he loved–he would never go back.

     But he did. Addiction, you see, is an insidious monster. He knew how bad it could get, he knew what the experts said was all true–it always ends the same–jails, institutions, or death. Even with the clean time, the miserable detox, the lesson of prison, and the promise to himself–even with all those things, and a loving family who wanted him to get better–even with all of that–he still relapsed. He. Still. Relapsed.

This is part one. Read the next edition of “Beat of the Street” to find out more about the adventures and tribulations of “The Idle American.”



The Magic Bus–a memoir

I purchased the bus off an old farmer who lived behind the Stop n’ Shop in Vernon. His name was Randall–Randall Farmer: truck mechanic. He customized it for his family to travel around and see the country in. When I discovered her she sat covered in trees, wedged way in the back of his yard, with a for sale sign inconspicuously placed on the windshield where it could barely be seen. A 1957 Ford school bus camper conversion, with a 4ft. by 4ft. porch welded to the back bumper. The perfect cruising party vessel. I had to have it.

    The year was 1984, we were two years out of high school…and I had dreams. We had dreams. Dreams of getting rich, of being someone important, of starting our own businesses–but all of those dreams would wait. The dream I chose to pursue immediately at the time, was my dream of seeing the country, of travelling ‘cross the old U.S. of A. in a rolling house on wheels.

    But the bus needed some work before that could happen. I borrowed the money to purchase it from Rick’s dad. Rick was my best friend, and his father was really wealthy. He took a liking to me…his father, not just because I was his only sons best friend, but because he knew my own dad had died when I was only two years alive. So after I put down the deposit to hold it, I went to him for a loan. I fell in love with this bus the first time ole’ Randall gave me a tour of the inside. I just had to have it. Jack gave me the money…and I paid back every dime.

      Randall Farmer was a very talented truck mechanic, with his very own hands he converted her from an antique school bus into a comfortable motorhome. All the amenities, a stove and sink, bathroom, dinette area that converted into a double bed, and a cozy back room with storage and a large sleeping area. And that porch– the porch Randall welded on the back, had a fence all around with a gate that swung open, and was so sturdy six people could stand on it while cruising down the highway. He had also explained to me about the two-speed electric rear end that was permanently jammed in high for better cruising speed on the highway. The man was a genius. There was one last feature that made this about the coolest custom cruiser I had ever seen, and it was in the drivers area. One bucket seat–a high back from a 1972 Charger, custom shag dashboard, and extended stick shift with a Hurst aluminum handle grip. The whole decor reeked of retro hippie mixed with bad-ass biker. It was just too perfect for a 19 yr.old free spirit dreamer, like myself.  

      Even though parking at my mothers house didn’t make mom all that happy, I still managed to sandblast the entire bus there, and paint it in three sections, giant stripes–one red, one white, and one blue.Very patriotic.Very Grateful Dead.

    After several local test flights, the “Magic” bus was made ready for her maiden voyage. Back in those days I did a lot of ticket scalping as a way to earn extra money, even though the majority of the time the profits were taken in the form of choice tickets for myself and a friend–instead of in cash. When I heard on the radio that “today at 2:00” they would be making “a big announcement” I knew what it had to be, and headed straight to the ticket outlet/ head shop, in downtown Manchester, and waited. LIVE AID tickets went on sale, and I was not only the first person in line, but I was the only person in line. Limit four per customer. With over a thousand dollars in my pocket, a little sign wasn’t going to stop me. I went to work. First person I saw was a man walking his dog.

      “Excuse me sir, would you like to make ten dollars quick?”

      This was the line I would use over and over; even the mailman got me tickets. When it was all said and done, I had scored over a dozen tickets to the biggest live show since Woodstock. For the price of one hundred dollars, a person would get a ticket to the show, and a ride to Philadelphia on the “Magic” red, white, and blue, school bus camper. This trip would be epic. The concert adventure…“of our lifetime.”

    Michael, Patrick (Seaweed), Gerry, Rick, and myself, all heading down the highway, in a bus full of beer, and a healthy stash of assorted mind altering substances specifically designed to enhance the experience. We got there a full day before the concert was scheduled to begin, giving us ample time to explore the area. For this purpose, we had Rick’s brand new “enduro” on/off road dirt bike strapped to the back porch. We all took turns riding the bike, doing wheelies through the crowd as they began to gather, and making cheesesteak and beer runs whenever necessary. We were having a blast and the concert hadn’t even started yet.

      They sang “We are the world…We are the children…” When it was all said and done, many bands reunited, bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, and many others just jammed together for the first and last time. Music history was made and we were there. Our history was also made. Never again would this unlikely group of friends be together like this. Never again would we be part of something that would be considered the music event of a generation…of our generation.

    The year was 1985, on a hot summer night in J.F.K. stadium the world was watching. People came together–in peace, and in music–for a single cause, to raise money for the starving children in Africa. When Phil Collins took the stage and played “Something In the Air Tonight” 90,000 lighters lit up the night sky. At that moment I knew life would never again be that carefree, that reckless, and that serendipitous. I also knew this would go down in our history…as one of our finest I couldn’t help but find myself lost in a melancholy dreamland…“We are the world….We are the children.”



Faces of Homelessness Speaking at R.H.A.M. school.

As a member of “Faces of Homelessness” speakers bureau, I get the privilege of talking at schools, church groups, and universities, about the real life experiences of a homeless person. I spent many years of my life homeless and addicted, and am glad to share my experiences with young minds. The title of my speech was “How Writing Saved My Life”

I told the true story of how I survived in prison by writing for the other inmates, usually for a 32 cent Ramen noodle. How I literally saved marriages, got people bonded out, and saved one guy six months on a sentence. I taught myself how to do sentence modifications and more.

After being released, I began writing for “The Beat of the Street” newspaper (Hartford CT.) and then got a scholarship to attend Goodwin College. After winning the college poetry contest and a few bucks, I entered a national humor poetry contest with over 5,000 entries and received honorable mention and a few more. I am now working on a memoir titled “Confessions of a Scrap Metal Junkie”

Here is a link to my Facebook post which is a photo of some of the awesome kids we spoke to at R.H.A.M.


Lady Justice In the Mirror


Where is our lady justice now?

Themas or Justitia, whichever is her name

interpreting laws that men create

blinded by choice, not by fate

how can she see herself the same?


Holding a scale in outstretched arms

judging wrongs from rights…and rights from wrongs

In the other hand holds fast a blade

hardened steel, American made

like the guns she used to stake her claims

when we laid the tracks and forged the trains


                  …killed the bison, took the plains


When the blood of so many runs through her veins

         …Has she ever thought to weigh the stains


remove the blindfold, look around

before again you stumble ‘cross…this sacred ground

A drop of blood, a broken heart, a flood of tears, a pound of pain

Equals how many grains–of eminent domain

She can call them free but the truth remains


–Had she ever thought to weigh the chains?


How Your Air Freshener Can Get You Busted

Dispatch: Top Secret

TheLoop-hole    Special Series: Edition 01

How Your Air Freshener Can Get You Busted 

This information can literally save your ass. Your air freshener, yeah, that little scented Christmas tree hanging so nonchalantly by a micro-bungie from your rear view mirror, could be the very thing that gets you nabbed. I am not just talking to those folks who enjoy riding dirty on occasion, no siree Bob! I’m talking to you too, Mr. above board, never did a drug in his life, suit and tie, conformity major. This information will save your ass too. That Christmas tree that makes your car smell like a prom date, it can cause you a world of shit. 

Here’s how it works. Mr. policeman cruising around for a while gets bored and decides to make something happen. He decides he wants to pull somebody over. This is a common thing with rookies who want to feel the rush of their newly sanctioned control and authority. For some reason, a reason only known to him, he or she chooses you. Maybe you look suspicious. Maybe you are driving through a drug area. Maybe he thinks your cute (ladies or young boys). Maybe he doesn’t like the color of your car, or your hair, your friend, or whatever, or…and this does happen a lot, his/her life sucks because he chose to be a cop and it is a tough job. So, the decision is made hastily and before you know it you find yourself on the side of the road wondering what in the world you actually did. The answer could be nothing, you did nothing wrong. The law says that police need a legitimate reason to pull you over. Broken taillight, faulty signal, loud exhaust, too much snow, those and other things of that nature are equipment issues. Fine. The other reason, of course, is when in the course of your driving you do something that violates traffic rules. And the last reason is registration, or insurance, or license plate type stuff, even a dirty plate, or covered in snow might suffice.

   Officers know this. This does not deter them from doing a random stop just because they feel like it. It happens all the time. In this type of scenario, most likely the officer knows he is pulling you over without a proper reason so he/she needs to simply come up with a reason at the spur of the moment. No big deal he thinks “I’ll just see what pops up when I get there.” Now he can’t lie about the taillight or anything else that may get recorded on his dash cam because it’s too easy to disprove. Assuming there isn’t an obvious radial fracture in your windshield, or anything else plainly visible, he is going to justify this illegal activity the easiest possible way. The air freshener. Trust me, if you live in the city, you know what I’m talking about. It’s called OBSTRUCTION OF VIEW. I have yet to see this argued in court. But if I become an attorney, I will get expert testimony from driving professionals to testify in open court, that your stinky little Christmas tree is not obscuring your vision enough to qualify as an obstruction. 

Think about it, if the doctor tells you that you have a bowel obstruction, then you and the doc both know you are talking complete blockage. Too much corn on the cob, or a small rodent perhaps (I’m not judging). A complete and total shut down. Those are obstructions. There is no way in holy hell (forgive me lord) that your fuzzy, ornamental, aromatic, precariously hanging tribute to odor free transportation, is obstructing anything other than your passengers flatulence. It’s a bogus excuse to pull you over and it get’s used more often than you would even believe.

Let’s face it, saying I pulled you over because you’re black, or brown, or gay, or my ex-wife, just doesn’t sound good to dispatch, even if you both know it’s the truth.

This is part one of a series. please share, like, and mostly subscribe. I am giving tools too literally save your ass, and all I ask in return is your subscription, that is it. This is me doing my part to make a better world, show me you support my effort, even if you disagree with my reasoning. Thank You.     



Review: Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic is not a Marvel comic super hero come to life. Not even close. He is a man who raises his six children to be hunters, self sustaining farmers, survivalist, and very well educated philosophers with an emphasis on political science. If that sounds a little weird, it’s because it is. But the weirdness, is in a sort of Utopian, hippie, Grizzly Adams (google it) sort of way. Everything’s just peachy for this cultish little family unit, until they need to go to their mom’s funeral on a mission to give her the type of burial, she, as a buddhist, requested in her will. Naturally, the antecedent of the plot, the Grandfather, wants to have a typical Christian style funeral service, and does not approve of the way his grandchildren are being raised. This is not the only conflict however. The father played convincingly by Viggo Mortenson, has to do some soul searching on whether his decisions throughout, are what was best for the mother, who suffered from mental illness, and if his style of living was best for the children, who are incredibly book smart, but socially awkward. Some of my favorite scenes happen on “Steve” the big converted school bus. It is true, I am biased toward movies that include converted hippie school buses, just can’t help it because I used to own one. It was a red, white and blue 1957 Ford school bus with a porch on the back, converted into a camper by a very talented truck mechanic; and I loved my bus. In this movie the bus (Steve) get’s a lot of screen time, and that is just fine with me. The scenery throughout the movie is very beautiful in it’s own right, but the most beautiful part was not the scenery so much as the scenes of the entire family dancing and singing Guns n’ Roses “Sweet Child of Mine” around the mother’s burning corpse that they rescued from the graveyard, only to flush the ashes down an airport toilet. If this all sounds like some sort of new age weirdness, then you are getting the right idea. The family celebrates Noam Chomsky day, instead of made up fantasy holidays like Christmas. I suppose what you really want to know: Is the damn thing any good? Great question–you get two stars. Let me say this: It won’t appeal to everyone, but I found some of it refreshing and lighthearted. Whatever political points it may, or may not, be trying to make, sort of get lost along the way. One part in particular exemplifies this–when the whole family creates this big ruse to “free the food” from the grocery store. Most people call it–stealing. This scene seems out of place for this man and his families Utopian lifestyle. I can only assume the point was to emphasize that even this great father figure has faults, but I don’t think turning him and his kids into glorified boosters was the best way to express this idea. He spends all sorts of time teaching them how to be self sufficient in the world, but then turns them all into a pack of shoplifters? Just was a little bit off to me. So class, what have we learned so far? That this movie sucks? No, that is incorrect. This movie does not suck. Nor does it come close to sucking. Actually it’s pretty good. Not for everyone. But pretty good. My opinion is biased, because of my affinity towards converted school buses, therefore I may have to recuse myself from the jury pool. There you have it. You are gonna have to check it out for yourself, I have been disqualified as a neutral observer due to preconceived prejudices towards “Steve” and everyone (thing) like him. It happens. Rock on party trolls. I give this movie three out of a possible four, reconstituted road kill entrail burgers. Yum. The Smyth has Spoken.

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