While growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, Jewel and her friends would sometimes shoplift in lieu of using food stamps.
"It was so embarrassing that we would rather steal," the singer-songwriter said during a recent visit to CBS News. "My best friend was living in the projects, and I lived at her house. There's a lot of stereotypes and a lot of shame. Everybody at school [was] laughing at us. And you're very aware what people think of you."
That's why Jewel, who experienced homelessness growing up and at one point lived out of her car, wants to help change those stereotypes. As a national ambassador for ReThink, Jewel is asking people reevaluate their perceptions of public housing.
"It's really interesting to read the research that ReThink did [in ReThink Survey: Perceptions of Public Housing 2013] -- 80 percent of Americans believe that people are entitled to safe housing, but 60 percent of Americans don't want it in their neighborhood," said Jewel. "There's a real disconnect happening."
As part of the initiative, Jewel is hosting a song contest that aims to "raise awareness for the importance of and need for public housing." She's asking fans to submit ideas on why housing matters. She'll then turn those bits of inspiration into a full song. Ten finalists will be chosen, and one lucky contender will get to meet Jewel in Los Angeles to hear her perform the song.
Jewel, 39, says compassion has been the driving force behind what motivated her as a teenager -- and even now to get involved and talk about these kinds of issues.
"It's why I wrote 'Who Will Save Your Soul' at 16," she said. "It's because of what I had gone through. I was so aware that people are struggling...because I'd been struggling my whole life. And the idea that we're not victims in our life. We need to find out how to be empowered and how to change our circumstances and that's been the journey in my life. "
Jewel's journey continues as she works on a new studio album, expected out next year -- 20 years since the release of her debut, "Pieces of You," which featured the hits "You Were Meant For Me," "Foolish Games" and "Who Will Save Your Soul."
For this new album, Jewel is doing away with the constraints of genre and major record labels. Instead she's focusing on music that matters to her regardless of style or hit singles.
"It was difficult for me to get all the voices outside of my head and clear it away so I could just get to what I really like and what interests me musically," Jewel explained. "It was amazing. It was hard to cut out all the fear of 'I don't know where this fits. It doesn't sound like anything that's happening on the radio' - and just be OK, give yourself permission to just be yourself -- and have no idea where that will lead you. But I'm really excited about it. It's a record I really need for my soul."
And Jewel, who lives with her husband Ty Murray and son Kase on a ranch in Texas, doesn't plan to do the full-on media tour when the album comes out.
"Now as a mom, I don't want to work like I used to. I don't want to tour and do promo like I used to -- on the road three months at a time," she said.
To coincide with the album, Jewel plans to release her first-ever memoir.
"It will be autobiographical. And I hate saying self-help book, but it will definitely be sort of things that got me through life because I've always been specific and conscientious about how I've tried to do it. And if there's something other people can get from that, that would be great."
The book will chronicle Jewel's life -- from her humble beginnings to superstardom in the '90s and beyond.
"Music is just the snakeskin of my soul. I love writing and poetry because it puts me in touch with myself. It's been my therapy. I couldn't live without it," said Jewel. "It's not that any one thing inspires me. It's just the side-effects of being alive for me."