At 15, Jewel was living on the streets of Alaska while pursuing a music career. Nearly 30 years later, the Grammy-nominated singer is continuing to use her platform to help today’s homeless youth, many of whom navigate stigma in a digital age.
“My main focus right now is helping children to deal with these new pressures by using mindfulness and emotional intelligence,” Jewels tells EW. “These tools helped me rediscover the motivation inside myself so I could be happy again.”
The singer is one of several celebrities appearing in the new documentary Lost in America. Above, EW has an exclusive trailer for the upcoming film, which follows one man’s journey to understand youth homelessness.
Director Rotimi Rainwater joined the Navy after high school but quickly discharged once his mother was diagnosed with cancer. By the time Rainwater came home, his mother had lost her place, leaving Rainwater living on the street. He was 19 years old.
“I lived in a park and then my car,” Rainwater said. “(I) crashed with a close friend and then was eventually under a bridge trying to make sure my mom was okay and get back on my feet.”
Lost in America is Rainwater’s third film. It’s his follow-up to Sugar, a 2013 feature starring Shenae Grimes as a 20-something homeless woman in Los Angeles. At a Congressional screening for the film, Rainwater originated his idea for the documentary.
“Not one member of Congress showed up,” Rainwater said. “It was just a bunch of their staffers. I started to really get the impression that this was an issue that was a whole lot bigger than I ever knew. Nobody wanted to deal with it.”
Filming for Lost in America started in 2013. After five years, the film is now completed, and Rainwater is seeking distribution.
Rainwater doesn’t hesitate to cite statistics on the number of young adults experiencing homelessness both in conversation and in the documentary. A 2017 study by the University of Chicago reported 4.2 million young people experience homelessness a year.
To reflect this population, Rainwater wanted to feature celebrities who either advocate on behalf of homeless youth or have previously been in their shoes.
Halle Berry, Rosario Dawson, Rebecca Gayheart, and Jon Bon Jovi all appear in the film, discussing their work to combat homelessness. While Berry is among the few describing their own time living on the streets, Rainwater says it’s Jewel’s story that most surprised him.
“Jewel is one of those people who really went through it — who lived on the streets and who dealt with aspects that are inherent to that (and) that had to go through the hardships of cleaning themselves in a Denny’s bathroom,” he said.
Jewel originally boarded the project as an interviewee before eventually becoming an executive producer. She wants today’s young adults to understand their agency.
“There is an epidemic of teen homelessness and teen hopelessness that needs to be addressed,” Jewel said. “In the meantime, children can take their lives into their own hands because unfortunately, we as a society have not solved the problem yet.”
See more in the exclusive trailer for Lost in America above.