The coffee brand taking a game-changing approach to fighting homelessness
What if your morning coffee could change lives?
Written by HYER NEWSROOM
It was Cemal Ezel who, back in 2015, first saw an opportunity to leverage our love of caffeine to support people experiencing homelessness. When he launched Change Please, its mission was simple: to help these people into stable and fairly paid employment by training them to make great coffee and giving them somewhere to serve it to the public. Seven years later, while that is still very much the heart of what this social enterprise is about, it now goes so much further.
The Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) recorded 11,018 people sleeping rough in London alone, between April 2020 and March 2021. Its data suggests the number of people living on the streets in the city has almost doubled over the last decade. But, as worrying as that number is, it’s far from the true extent of the problem. Not everyone without a home sleeps rough; Crisis reports that 282,000 single people, couples and families were homeless or threatened with homelessness in the UK in 2020/21.
Interview with CEO, Cemal Ezal
Most of these people are at the mercy of sporadic and insufficient handouts from the government and members of the public, and lack the support needed to find and maintain long-term accommodation. While a donation might help someone secure a safe and warm bed at a hostel for the night, it’s doing nothing to tackle the root of the problem. There is a complex, knotty web of issues surrounding homelessness. It can be a dehumanising experience – people are driven to feel entirely disconnected from the societies that they depend on – which can easily lead to depression or addiction. That’s before even taking into account any pre-existing struggles or traumas that might have instigated the situation in the first place.
Change Please is designed to provide meaningful, game-changing support that will benefit people in the long term. Offering accredited barista training and short-term employment at one of its seven UK coffee shops is the first step. But, as the enterprise funnels 100% of its profits straight back into extra support for the homeless, it can afford to employ occupational therapists, psychologists and counsellors for its trainee baristas, as well as provide housing and help with admin and finding ongoing employment opportunities.
The holistic approach that Change Please takes in fighting homelessness – focussing not only on roofs and beds but on community, lifestyle, mental wellbeing and professional development – has proved to be an effective and life-altering one. To date, more than 85% of its trainees have gone on to secure long-term employment, with 500 becoming baristas. In 2022, the team hopes to train a further 1,000 people.
“For us, it's really about shouting from the rooftops about what's possible, and that's done through coffee – putting it into people's hands and getting them addicted, not just to the coffee, but addicted to impact”
Cemal Ezal, CEO Change Please
Stats aside, Cemal also notes the more qualitative benefits of the programme. Giving trainees the opportunity to become part of a community – not just the Change Please community, but the local community they serve this coffee to – and allowing them to be in a position to provide people with something of value, as opposed to being forced to rely on others to be providers, is empowering and transformational.
It’s about that shift from asking to giving, says Cemal. “It leads to a lot of change in individuals, in terms of their confidence, their self-worth and self-belief. Then we can try and find solutions to fix any of the challenges that they're facing… I think that’s really powerful.”
The more of Change Please’s award-winning coffee that finds its way into people’s hands, homes and offices, the more of an impact it will have on the homelessness crisis. While there’s a considerable mountain to climb, this social enterprise has its eyes on the prize – and it’s fuelled by something a lot stronger than caffeine.
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