Singer/songwriter Vanessa Lively and her Home Street Music nonprofit are restoring self-worth in the Austin homeless community through music.
By Anna Lassmann, Photo By Kara E. Henderson
Music has always been an integral part of Vanessa Lively’s life. She has used it as a means of self-expression and to process the world around her. But Lively also wanted to utilize music to connect with a particular group of people who have lost some of their own self-worth: the homeless.
“As humans, music has been part of [our]makeup since the beginning,” Lively says. “It’s just something that I think we need in our world and as human beings.”
Lively, the founder of Home Street Music, was given the opportunity to realize her dreams of serving others when she entered a songwriting competition in 2017. Not quite sure what she was entering, Lively submitted one of her songs and filled out an application, which included the question, “If you could do a dream project in your community that is in the realm of social justice, what would it be?” Lively didn’t have to think long before she knew she wanted to create a music program similar to Art From the Streets, a local nonprofit that provides homeless artists with materials to create artwork.
A few months later, Lively performed her music in California for the songwriting competition, which was hosted by Music to Life, a nonprofit that empowers artists to create change in their communities. Following her performance, she was asked to come out onstage and share with the audience her plans when she went back to Austin. Lively was surprised to find she had won the Artist Activist Award and a $5,000 grant to create her dream project.
Lively came home not really knowing how to start. She met with the executive director of Art From the Streets, who advised her to start her own organization, which set the wheels in motion for Home Street Music, a music program that serves Austin’s homeless community.
“Things have had a really rapid and beautiful unfolding in these past not even two years,” Lively says.
Home Street Music began its pilot program in November 2017 through a partnership with Community First Village in East Austin, which provides affordable housing for people transitioning out of chronic homelessness. Here, Lively and other musicians gather in a circle with members of the village and begin each Home Street Music session with a jam.
“The music leaders will kick off the jam and people can grab instruments or shakers or just sit there and sing,” Lively says. “We’ll jam on a song just to get all together and have fun.”
During the sessions, there is also time for participants to share the art they are working on. Then the group practices musical exercises, learning about key musical components like rhythm, melody and song structure.
“It’s just very natural,” Lively says. “Any human can step into these exercises. We’re about community building and sharing and making friendships through the medium of music. Music is our glue that brings us together.”
The next step for Lively is to reach different homeless populations throughout Austin. She says plans are in the works to partner with additional organizations, including the Austin Public Library system, in the near future to facilitate the expansion of the program to more areas in Austin.
“Right now,” Lively says, “I’m trying to focus my energy on having a solid foundation before we expand outward because that’ll require that we have more people and more availability.”