Jewel Debuts New Song, ‘Home to Me,’ for ReThink Housing Campaign
"They approached me, and it was a cause that was dear to my heart," the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter tells The Boot. "I love the fact that it's a public awareness campaign. We're not asking people for money; we're just asking people to re-think their perceptions. And that takes education and getting to know our neighbors."
According to a recent public survey ReThink conducted, more than 80 percent of Americans believe that all U.S. citizens should have access to a safe and affordable place to live, but more than half did not want public housing in their own neighborhoods.
"So you can tell that there's an obvious disconnect between the need and people's perception of what happens and who lives in public housing," Jewel states. "There's a lot of stigmas. They think people are lazy, they're getting a free ride, those types of things. Everybody pays rent in public housing, which is something a lot of people don't realize, on a sliding scaled based on their income. But they pay their bills.
"It's over 40 percent children, it's over 30 percent elderly. It's a lot of veterans," she adds. "I think it was Mahatma Gandhi that said, the mark of a civilization is how it cares for its elderly and its infirm. There's such a tremendous need in America for this. I don't think most people realize how many families, even two-income families are one paycheck away from homelessness. If anything goes wrong -- if they get in a car accident or a child gets sick -- they're in dire trouble. These aren't lazy people. These are people that need a safe and affordable place so that they can get back to school, get a better education and try to get a higher-paying job, and need some stability during transition times."
Jewel knows exactly how that feels, having been in that position herself.
"I grew up in a divorced home with parents that were barely making ends meet. I moved around a ton -- I think over 20 different houses between the ages of eight and 18," she shares. "[I] moved out when I was 15 and ended up homeless because I wouldn't sleep with my boss when I was 18. I couldn't pay my rent, lived in my car and thought, 'No big deal. I'll get a new job and save up for a deposit.'
"But then my car got stolen, and I had bad kidneys, and you can't get a new job when you don't even have a home address," Jewel adds. "It's very, very difficult. So it's something I understand. It's very close to my heart."
ReThink held a contest and invited participants to write to them on the topic of what housing means to them. Jewel used some of the ideas from the finalists' essays as a springboard for her new song, in which she reflects, "I guess this building is really building me." She borrowed the title, 'Home to Me,' from the winning composition by Silvia Kearney of Akron, Ohio. The song is classic Jewel, juxtaposing a stream-of-consciousness flurry of words and ideas in the verses with a very clean, simple chorus in a manner that she compares to 'Who Will Save Your Soul.'
Despite the unique circumstances, Jewel says the writing process wasn't that different from past efforts.
"I've always been inspired by what I'm seeing around me," she states. "It's a topic I've thought a lot about in my life, and their writing really touched me; you know, looking at a lot of single moms who have actually been homeless, living in cars with their children. I can't imagine having been homeless with children. It's just amazing stories of overcoming and trying to keep families together and persevering."
She's hopeful that the song and campaign will open people's eyes to the realities of the need for decent public housing.
"Really just that people re-think," she says is the goal. "That they maybe look around and go, 'Where is public housing trying to get up? Who's blocking it? How do I feel about it?' Be willing to go to the ReThinkHousing.org website, and you'll get to see videos of who lives there and challenge our perceptions.
"The hardest thing is to get people to pierce the veil of their misconceptions. We make opinions based on not a ton of fact. I do the same thing," she admits with a laugh. "And then you actually have to actively re-engage to be able to change that perception.
"We need public support. When these things come up for vote in our communities, we need people that are supporting and saying, 'I'm willing to let this happen in my community.'"
Visit ReThink's official website for more information and to receive a free download of Jewel's new song, 'Home to Me.'
Listen to Jewel, 'Home to Me':