Updated: Aug 16
ORLEANS – When Joanna Meager takes the stage at this year's Rock To Stop Homelessness event, she'll be doing more than entertaining a crowd. The Harwich native and mother of two will embody the event's cause.
About six years ago, Meager, her husband and children were forced to find a new place to live on short notice. "Our landlord at the time sold the house out from underneath us, and we had 30 days to get out," she said. "We pretty much became a classic statistic here on the Cape. If we didn't have family here, we would have been forced off Cape."
With housing nearly impossible to find, the family spent a month living out of a tent on her parents' lawn. For her kids, the experience resembled an extended camp out. But Meager, who fronts the local band Jo and Co, knew she needed help finding housing before the fall and winter months set in.
She reached out to the Homeless Prevention Council, which not only provided the family with first and last month's rent and a security deposit for a new rental home, but also helped put it on a path toward future homeownership.
"We didn't have six grand just hanging out," Meager said of finding a new home. "We were able to come up with more than half of it, and they just made the rest happen. They made sure we were supported."
Jo and Co will headline the council's annual Rock To Stop Homelessness benefit on April 9 at Hog Island Brewery. The council has been organizing the event for years, according to Hadley Luddy, the council's CEO. When the event's regular headliner was unavailable to play this year, Luddy said Meager immediately fit the bill.
"We love Joanna bringing attention to our cause," she said. "That she's a passionate spokesperson for HPC means a lot to us. It kind of makes it real to see that all of us in the community at various times might need support from organizations like HPC, and that's why we're here."
Meager is a graduate of the council's REACH project, a mentorship program that helps participants zero in on lifelong goals by teaching mindfulness and how to reduce stress. She credits the program with helping her toward owning a home, a goal she hopes to realize in the next few years.
"In all the ways they've given to me, this is just a tiny way I can give back to them," Meager said of being invited to perform at this year's event.
Meager recalls developing an interest in music from a young age. Her father handed her a guitar and taught her a few chords when she was in the fifth grade. From there, she began writing her own songs culled from her own experiences and those of friends and family on Cape Cod. With Jo and Co, she brings together her wealth of influences, from Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey to rock and roll, blues and country.
When COVID-19 hit, it put much of the band's activity on hold. Amidst the stresses of parenting during school closures and other family issues, she also used the time to figure out where to take her music going forward. In the end, she said, the pandemic provided plenty of fodder for new music.
"It gave me so much to write about," she said. "Life in general has always been an inspiration for my original music."
Meager's triumph over homelessness can be seen as a success story, but she realizes there are many others on the Cape who aren't as fortunate. Year-round housing has always been difficult to come by in the region, and it's a problem that's only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Going forward, she said there needs to be more of a commitment to providing housing locally to those residents and families who need it, not just from the towns, but also from second homeowners.
"I have a house next door to me," she said. "I've been living here for three years, I've never seen anyone come next door to me. Not one person. There's a family out there that could be homeless, and that house could be perfect for them.
"Housing on Cape Cod is just non-existent," she added. "Even rentals are just too expensive for I would say a normal middle class American family to live in. It's just next to impossible. Homeless Prevention Council, they're saving people from living on the streets, plain and simple."
Those interested in attending this year's Rock to Stop Homelessness event are asked to reserve their tickets in advance at www.hpccapecod.org. There is a suggested $20 donation for the all-ages event, which will also feature raffle baskets and auction items that attendees can bid on.
"Our big hope is not just to fundraise, but also raise awareness to the mission," Luddy said.