Jewel on what it’s really like to be homeless

Jewel may be a famous and successful singer and music icon, but her climb to the top was much more grueling than it was for many of her peers in the industry. That’s because many of them started with a home. In her teenage years, Jewel didn’t have that luxury.

In a recent interview with The Huffington Post, Jewel opened up about leaving her abusive, alcoholic father at age 15. She escaped to an unheated cabin, riding horseback or just hitchhiking to work in Alaska. And when she relocated to California, she experienced health problems that made it hard for her to hold down a job. Eventually, when an employer came on to her and she stood up for herself, her paycheck was held back, and she was kicked out of her apartment.

Jewel thought she would be living out of her car for a couple of months when she was in San Diego, but it turned out to be a year. Writing songs and poetry from her car, she performed regularly at a cafe until Atlantic Records found her and got her out of poverty. But Jewel’s situation was a rare one for those who are homeless. “It’s very difficult to work your way out of that when you don’t have a physical address to put on a job application,” Jewel told The Huffington Post.

One of the most difficult things for Jewel was experiencing people thinking she was lazy because she didn’t have a home. In particular, she remembers an experience she had one day in a Denny’s bathroom, when two women saw her washing her hair in the sink. They kept their distance, looking “horrified,” and Jewel left, feeling ashamed. “They were just so judgmental and so happy to write me off — which we do every day with homeless people — and it makes you feel very insignificant,” she explained.

But Jewel isn’t leaving her past behind her. She’s remembering it to make a difference, to help those who are going through exactly what she did as a girl, in a documentary with the public housing advocacy group ReThink. The documentary, entitled Our Journey Home, is narrated by Jewel and tells the story of three people and families that spent time in public housing while attending occupational training before moving out.

“I knew at 15 that girls like me end up, statistically, repeating what we’re raised around, and I didn’t have very much going for me,” the singer told The Huffington Post. “But I did have a sort of pervasive pioneer spirit that’s very prevalent in Alaska. . . “We do women a disservice as young girls by not teaching them how the world works, and that they’ll be making their own way. In Alaska, the female pioneers built their own houses, they felled their own trees. . . very capable women.”

Jewel isn’t afraid to be open and honest about her experiences. She isn’t afraid to show the deep well of emotion we all have, and she isn’t afraid to be optimistic or “sappy.” “Maybe it is the age of cynicism,” she told The Huffington Post. “I think cynicism is a luxury of spoiled people. . . I think if you really have hard times, you find a way to overcome. You can’t afford cynicism, because it will break you.”

In fact, it’s experiencing the pain that makes you stronger, not resisting, she explained. “I find the process of pain to be intrinsically healing,” she told The Huffington Post in a separate interview. “If you give into pain you’re already engaged in the healing process. So I think it’s inherently optimistic. It’s when you resist pain that you become quite cynical and quite hardened. And that’s a type of pain that’s intolerable to me.”

Thank you, Jewel, for opening up about your experiences and remaining optimistic no matter what life has thrown your way. . . you’re an inspiration. Watch the trailer for Our Journey Home here.

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[Image via YouTube]