Violent death has become almost routine in most American cities. In 2019, Baton Rouge experienced 83 murders, and the toll in many US cities is much higher.
But for me at least, the deaths of Fowler and Corcoran were especially poignant. As Advocate news writer Jacqueline Derobertis reported, both victims had people in their lives who loved and cared about them. Ms. Fowler had a daughter and an ex-husband who had offered to get her hotel room on the night she died just to get her off the streets. Mr. Corcoran left four children under the age of 18.
The Advocate published photos of Fowler and Corcoran, which powerfully attested to the fact that neither one had always been homeless. Fowler appears radiant with a smiling face and a confident gaze. Corcoran's photo shows him wearing a coat and tie, serenely looking at the camera.
Homelessness is an urgent problem in America. Thousands of Americans live on the streets or in tent jungles. According to some reports, almost half of America's homeless are in California, but who knows the truth of the matter? Almost every American city has a significant homeless population.
The experts say homelessness is linked to mental illness, joblessness, and drug abuse. Indeed, Fowler suffered from drug addiction, and Corcoran had been thrown out of work. But to better understand the nation's current homelessness crisis, we might learn something from studying the last great period of homelessness in America--the Great Depression.
That era was powerfully depicted in John Ford's great movie, The Grapes of Wrath. Based on John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name, the movie tells the story of the Joads, a family of Oklahoma tenant farmers who were forced off their farm by a heartless landowner.
The Joads were fictional, but more than a million homeless people flocked to California during the 1930s, where they hoped to find jobs and a better life. Thanks to World War II, most of the Okies were able to regroup. Many found work in the defense and construction industries. Others settled in California's Central Valley and became truck farmers. The great Merle Haggard, who penned the song Okie from Muskogee, was the son of Okie parents.
The homelessness crisis of the Thirties differs from today's homelessness epidemic. Many of the homeless people of the 1930s survived as intact families. The Joad family, for example, was made up of four generations. And the Okies of the Thirties had job skills. Most had been smalltime farmers, who knew something about construction, agriculture, and mechanics.
It should not take another war to solve America’s homelessness crisis. Our communities have the resources to alleviate this human tragedy. Expanding mental health services will help, along with more treatment options for drug addiction. But all of us have a personal responsibility to nurture young people to develop job skills, to become self-reliant, and to be resilient.
And we should recognize our fellow citizens who help unfortunate people get back on their feet. Ivy Alford, my father-in-law, has cooked meals for homeless men at the Bishop Ott Homeless Shelter for more than 25 years. Over the years, Ivy and his family have cooked more than 5,000 meals for the homeless.
Ms. Fowler and Mr. Corcoran had family members who reached out to them. Had there been more time, both might have lifted themselves out of homelessness. Tragically, they were murdered. Let’s hope their death underscores the urgency of the homelessness crisis in Baton Rouge.
|Christiana Fowler and Gregory Corcoran Jr.: Homeless
Photo credit: Baton Rouge Advocate