Man Who Lived On Streets Given ‘Faith In Future’ After Being Hired To Make Coffee
Buying a coffee is part of a morning routine for thousands of people across the UK, and for those living in bigger towns and cities it wouldn’t be surprising if they passed a homeless person while on the way.
Homelessness is, undoubtedly, a crisis. Though there is support out there in the form of food banks and shelters, often those living on the streets need a more substantial opportunity in order to really change their situation.
Latest figures presented by Homeless.org.uk estimate there were 4,266 people sleeping rough in England in Autumn 2019; a 141% increase since 2010.
Change Please is an organisation offering the chance for those experiencing homelessness to significantly change their lives.
The coffee company hires people who have experienced, or are still experiencing, homelessness to work in its pop-up stalls across London and its other locations and trains them to become baristas – those who specialise in making and serving coffee. It pays the Living Wage, which in London is £10.75 per hour.
In turn, employees are able to re-integrate into a society in which they are largely overlooked by learning how to interact with and serve customers, and how to be part of a business.
Liam, a 28-year-old who has dealt with living on the streets and sofa surfing, has seen firsthand how Change Please can turn lives around. He credits the organisation with improving his mental health and giving him a sense of purpose, as well as allowing him to engage with people and earn a living with which he can pay rent and buy himself good, healthy food.
Before being hired by Change Please, Liam spent two years living in a supported accommodation hostel and had been out of work for more than eight years. He spent his time volunteering with various charities, but due to his lack of employment record he struggled to find paid work.
Liam told UNILAD it felt ‘demoralising’ to be rejected by employers, adding:
I had lots of different skills, I was running a social media account, doing admin, project management, running festivals, so many different varied skills that are transferrable and can be taken into any work place.
I understand that it’s a tough economic environment, but when you have applied for hundreds of jobs and don’t get anywhere it breaks you down quite a bit. You feel a bit useless and like you’re not worthy of being in society because you’re not working or paying taxes.
All I had been asking for was a chance. I am me, I am young, I have bags of energy and bags of potential and I just needed that foot in the door to show what I can do to adapt, to learn and develop myself. It’s heartbreaking when you don’t get any response.
Liam believes there is a stigma surrounding those who rely on government benefits, that they are considered ‘scroungers’, but he argued that is not the case. He pointed out people ‘want to live’ and ‘want to work’, they just need a ‘break’ to be able to do so.
They need someone to say I don’t care about your background or that you’ve been homeless, here is a chance.
That’s what Change Please have given me, which just means the world.
The 28-year-old heard about the coffee company through his employment advisor, who had been helping him through a difficult time when other jobs had fallen through.
At first Liam was a bit baffled by the idea, believing his advisor was suggesting he become a qualified legal professional, but once he realised his advisor was talking about a barista, not a barrister, the hopeful man was more intrigued.
Liam remained slightly dubious of the process as he has previously gone through training which failed to help him land a job, but he thought it was ‘worth a shot’ and had his advisor fill out a referral form. He was invited to interview on January 2, after which he began training at the organisation’s Academy in Peckham.
The company’s trainers were described as ‘really positive’ as they offered praise to the employees to help them ‘evolve and grow’. Liam learned about where coffee comes from and how to set up a coffee machine, grind coffee and do latte art, as well as about Change Please and its goal.
Liam no longer felt alone, explaining:
I realised I was part of a bigger thing, a growing team of people doing business differently.
After two days’ work experience, Liam had his first paid shift, and the newly trained barista admitted he cried when he received his first pay check. He now works two shifts a week, though is planning on increasing his hours.
Describing what being employed meant to him, Liam said:
To sign my contract felt so amazing. I was finally employed and could tell the job centre that I had a job, and I am running with it and not looking back! And I might not be perfect and may never be perfect, but I am taking this by the horns… I am putting my all in and see where it goes.
It’s given me that boost and uplift that I need.
Cemal Ezal, Founder and CEO of Change Please, told UNILAD he came up with the idea for the organisation in 2014, when he started having doubts about the work he was doing.
The CEO was on a bus journey in Vietnam when he got talking with an American man who told him to do the ‘rocking chair test’ to help determine whether he was happy with his life choices.
Imagine you are sitting in your rocking chair at the age of 90 thinking, what have you achieved? What’s your legacy in the world? Have you left the world a better place? And who is going to remember you?
The idea stuck with Cemal, and he realised he wanted to take a more sustainable path and stop ‘just taking’ from the planet.
As for why he decided to try and help the homeless, Cemal said:
[W]e all walk past people on the streets that are homeless on a daily basis… Whatever country you are in, we all face the same challenges; is this person actually homeless, if I give them money will they spend it on drugs and alcohol?… [Y]ou find a reason to not support that person and just continue walking.
I thought that there must be a better way to tackle the problem of homelessness than what’s being done at the moment; there must be a more sustainable alternative.
Cemal was inspired to create Change Please after seeing a homeless person holding a sign baring the phrase in London, and after seeing a Banksy piece showing a homeless person holding a sign saying: ‘Keep your coins I want change’.
Change Please was established in 2015 and began with just one coffee cart in Covent Garden. It has since grown to 10 public sites in London and launched a new line of cookies to further educate staff with baking skills.
The organisation has partnered with the likes of Virgin Atlantic, WeWork, David Lloyd and the Mayor of London, and launched its first site in Perth, Australia, with others around the globe, including Paris and Dublin, set to follow in 2020.
Cemal described his organisation as a ‘solution to the homelessness crisis, using the nation’s love of coffee to train and support people in employment as baristas.’
The average Londoner treats themselves to two cups of coffee a day, so it is a hugely competitive and growing market. This is why we are trying to innovate what’s happening in the coffee industry and disrupt the coffee market, whilst also disrupting the way that people experiencing homelessness are being supported.
As well as hiring those in need, Change Please puts 100% of its profits towards helping those who have experienced homelessness by providing training, employment and support.
With a consistent income to rely on, Liam is now able to ‘enjoy life’ more. He doesn’t mind spending a bit extra on nice sandwiches or drinks, or buying his partner flowers. Working has helped the barista deal with his depression and anxiety as he focuses on making coffee and chatting with customers.
Speaking further about how the job has improved his life, Liam said:
When you suffer from mental health problems you start to wonder where you fit and belong in life. You feel like no one else recognises or knows what you’re going through, and although lots of others are, you feel isolated.
For me, I always wanted to be useful and worthy of being part of society. Being able to wake up every morning and think I am going to make some good coffee, I am going to learn and engage with people and I will finish the day and feel good.
I have loved every day that I have had working for Change Please. Each day just gets better and better, because I am learning and making consistently good coffee.
After dealing with a variety of living situations, including having rented a home and lost it in the past, Liam is finally able to properly change his living situation.
Earning the London Living Wage is ‘opening doors’ for the worker, and now he and his partner are ‘thinking about where [they] hope to live and how much bills will be’.
Liam told UNILAD:
My long term goal is to have my own place. Previously it has always been too expensive, and when you are on benefits it’s not even possible to think about. But now I’m working at Change Please, I now have more financial freedom, and I can think more about longer term financial stability.
I have faith and belief in my future, for the first time in a long time.
As well as being able to make a delicious coffee, working with Change Please has taught Liam how to manage his money and time, how to work in a team, and how to engage with different people.
Liam hopes to have a full time role with Change Please in the future, either running his own coffee site or doing something else to support to organisation.
Discussing what he loves about Change Please, Liam said:
My favourite things are the people, the environment, the cause and purpose, and what it stands for. It’s not just a company that sells coffee, it’s a company that improves people’s lives. It’s something I love.
Everybody makes time to talk to you… It feels like a family. I feel like I belong and fit in, and like I am doing a good job.
I feel part of a movement, part of a change in society. Everyone is part of a bigger thing. I am not just someone who makes the coffee, we are Change Please.
Liam urged coffee drinkers to consider Change Please for their morning beverage, pointing out that buying from the organisation helps enable people who have experienced homelessness to believe in themselves again.
Change Please is helping people to rebuild their lives by giving them a kick start in life. It gives us the ability to feel part of society again, and helps us grow, and feel normal.
If you give people who have nothing half a chance, believe me, they will take it, and they will give you everything they have… when you have nothing, you treasure every little thing you have.
Change Please currently employs 20 people who have experience of homelessness, though it has supported over 200 people experiencing homelessness with training and employment since 2015.
The organisation is aiming to make employers aware it is legal to hire a homeless person, as in a YouGov poll of UK employers and employees 40% did not know this was the case.
Cemal told UNILAD:
Change Please is leading the way to showing other employers that people who have experienced homelessness can be a valued part of the workforce, reliable and hardworking.
We work to break down this societal stigma by sharing the stories of the brilliant people we work with, all of whom have experienced homelessness, to inspire others to realise their potential.
If you’d like to support Change Please, but don’t have a coffee stand near you, you can purchase Change Please coffee in Sainsburys and through the organisation’s website.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]