Having survived on the streets herself, Jewel is acutely aware of the importance of home. Inspired by the ReThink campaign, the singer-songwriter has just released a new track aimed at changing the often negative perception of public housing.
On the ReThink campaign
Earlier this year, Jewel filled us in on why the need for public housing is so imperative, and it’s obvious that the past few months have only heightened her passion for the program.
“The ReThink campaign did a survey, and over 80 percent of Americans believe that all of our citizens should be entitled to safe, affordable housing,” she shared, “but over 50 percent of them don’t believe it should be in their neighborhood.”
Clearly, there exists a disconnect between what public housing does and the very real stigma that surrounds it. As Jewel points out, over 40 percent of people living in public housing are children and over 30 percent are elderly. She elaborated, “There are a lot of veterans, a lot of people who need a safety net, a lot of single-income families.”
And a whole lot of mothers and children. “Moms going back to school to get an education to be able to get a higher-paying job, but who can’t afford to put themselves through school and need a controlled, affordable place to live.”
You might just be surprised to learn of some of the people who’ve relied on public housing to help them get through a tough spot or two.
“I don’t think people realize a lot of people go on to be very productive citizens from public housing,” she said. “Jimmy Carter, our former president; Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg… there’s so many great entertainers who went on to be great contributors.”
Including, of course, Jewel, who lived in over 22 different homes between the ages of 8 and 20 before ultimately ending up homeless.
It can happen to anyone, she affirms, pointing out that the psychological repercussions from getting stuck in the cycle of poverty can be difficult to shake.
“It gives you a tremendous amount of insecurity. Psychologists and neuroscientists have noted that it can create a sort of trauma in the brain when you can’t have your core needs met,” she explained.
“Something I felt like when I was homeless is people just thought I was worthless. They would just dismiss you and treat you so poorly,” she admitted, “and there’s no one that’s worthless. I really believe that, and we need to know our inherent value and just help people have some pride in a really difficult situation.”
On her new home-inspired song
Which is something Jewel is proud to be doing through the initiative, especially for one Silvia Kearney of Akron, Ohio.
When the call to action was sent out asking people to contribute personal stories of what home means to them, Kearney sent in a beautiful poem titled “Home to Me.”
Now that poem has been reworked by Jewel into a poignant song — which Kearney got to hear Jewel perform in person last night when ReThink flew her out to Los Angeles for submitting the winning entry.
According to Jewel, it was the message in Kearney’s words that spoke to her.
“We just sort of wanted one that really spoke to us about the core things a house really provides,” she asserted, “because it really isn’t just about a roof over your head. And it certainly isn’t about what most people think it is: what you can fill it with. It’s really about having those core needs met. A place where you can have hope and a dream for a future and a chance for an education.”
On the songwriting process
Narrowing the entries down to one winner was no easy feat, though. “All of the stories were so touching… it was really fun to be able to write a song based on these entries,” Jewel gushed.
Still, reading through the stories also proved emotional. “I heard from so many single moms that were homeless with their children and living in a car,” she revealed. “Man, it was so stressful being homeless by myself. I can’t imagine looking after kids and trying to support them and have some stability in that situation.”
Accordingly, Jewel is proud of “Home to Me” — on more than one level.
“I wouldn’t say it’s political, but I would say it’s very socially poignant and it was really enjoyable to write, especially because it’s something that means so much to me and really encourages people to try and think deeper,” she said of the song’s message. “This era we’re living in is watching rich housewives and all these things that aren’t really what home is about — it’s really about something much deeper.”
Artistically, the song resonates with her as well. “I’m making a record right now that’s sort of a bookend to my first record, and this song in a weird way reminds me of ‘Who Will Save Your Soul,'” she revealed. “Very stream of consciousness, very wordy, about a social topic.”
But while Jewel’s digging the vibe of “Home to Me,” she’s got at least one tough critic to contend with: her 3-year-old son, Kase.
“He’s heard me practicing it a little bit, but he doesn’t pay a ton of attention. He’s usually like, ‘Mom, stop that,'” she laughed. “He just wants to play — he makes me pretend I’m Buzz Lightyear, and that’s all he cares about.”