A shelter for hardcore alcoholics in Seattle. A tour of Skid Row in Los Angeles. Perhaps a squatters village in Sacramento.
That’s because this tour in support of Bon Jovi’s latest release, “The Circle,” is also a fact-finding mission. The singer plans on visiting as many homeless shelters and programs as time allows in hopes of getting ideas and inspiration to shape his own work with the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a Philadelphia-based charity that fights homelessness by building affordable housing, establishing community kitchens and cleaning up vacant lots in blighted neighborhoods.
“I’ve spent the last quarter of a century touring, going from arena-stadium to hotel back to arena-stadium-hotel,” he says. “This time, because of my foundation’s work over the last six years building affordable housing, on my days off and when the opportunity arises … I will go do shelters and try to learn more about the issue and how to combat it.”
Among those stops: Skid Row in Los Angeles early next month with Steve Lopez, the Los Angeles Times columnist who wrote “The Soloist,” about a schizophrenic, homeless and wildly talented cellist named Nathaniel Ayers. The book was later made into a movie.
“Skid Row is an eye-opener,” Lopez said in an e-mail. “I don’t know Jon Bon Jovi, but I suspect he may come out of this with a keener sense of how many people are suffering in this economy, and of how many people on Skid Row are dealing with a combination of financial, physical and mental health issues, many of them veterans.”
Such themes dovetail with the latest album, which features “Working for the Working Man” and other songs inspired by the economic meltdown and political turmoil around the world.
Before he kicked off the tour with two shows at Seattle’s KeyArena last week, Bon Jovi toured one of the city’s most well-recognized homelessness programs, a building run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center that provides homeless alcoholics, many of whom have serious mental illnesses, a place to live — and drink alcohol.
The program saves taxpayers more than $4 million a year in social service and jail costs and creates a safe atmosphere where residents may be more likely to get sober, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year.
The singer didn’t specify what aspects of the program he might incorporate into his future work at the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, which has built more than 150 units of affordable housing in seven cities since 2006. Various problems of homelessness require different solutions, he said.
Thinking back on a quarter-century of hanging out in hotels around the world, does the 47-year-old wish he started working on the homelessness issue earlier?
“I don’t think I was ready for it,” he said. “When you’re a boy in a rock band, you want to go out and see the world and do all the great things you’re supposed to do when you join a rock band. Now there’s another aspect to it. There’s just more to be said and done, and the difference that can be felt on the trail that you’ve made.”