LOS ANGELES — Jewel is planning an album for release next fall. But for now, she's giving away her latest song for free.
The once-homeless singer-songwriter wrote "Home to Me" to support the ReThink public housing initiative. Inspired by an online contest that drew hundreds of submissions, Jewel unveiled the track online Tuesday, where it's available as a free download. She also performed it live at The Mint nightclub for an intimate audience of public housing administrators and residents.
"I love that it's a public awareness campaign," she said in an interview before taking the stage. "We're not asking people for money. We're asking them to rethink."
The majority of public-housing residents are children, veterans and the elderly, she said. More than 2 million low-income families and individuals are served by public housing, but ReThink says the need is much greater.
Jewel could have used public housing help when she became homeless at 18. She said her boss at the time withheld her check when she refused to sleep with him. She couldn't pay her rent and lived in her car until it was stolen.
"It was just a very vicious poverty cycle," she said.
She turned to writing and music to lift her spirits. She was performing at a coffee shop when she was discovered. The first song she ever wrote became her first single: "Who Will Save Your Soul?"
"I always crowd-source song inspiration," she said. "It's really about what I see around me."
She's never done it quite as formally as she did with this latest track. ReThink held a contest inviting the public to share poems and essays about what home means to them, and Jewel chose the title of her new song from one of the submitted compositions.
"It's surreal," said Silvia Kearney of Ohio, who wrote the essay called "Home to Me" and sat with her son and daughter in the audience for Jewel's performance. "It's unbelievable to inspire someone like her, so famous and so talented."
The 40-year-old entertainer has been busy since announcing her impending divorce from husband Ty Murray in July. She's at work on a "memoir/self-help book," which she hopes to release alongside more new music. She's already written 30 songs for a new album, which she describes as "a bookend to (1995's) 'Pieces of You,' a pretty raw folk album."
She plans to release it independently so she can set a schedule that allows her to focus on Kase, her 3-year-old son with Murray.
She said the heartache over her split with Murray, whom she married in 2008, shows up in some of the new songs, but she's grateful the two have remained friends.
"My writing has always reflected my life," she said. "It's such a heartbreak, but at the same time I feel really lucky that I have a friend going through this with me. We're focusing on our strengths: Being really great parents and good friends."