Tackling homelessness with coffee: interview with Cemal Ezel, founder of Change Please

Quantifying homelessness is not straightforward. It is a growing social issue however, as it is estimated that the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled in the UK since 2010, now reaching 4000 people every night. We are launching a thematic month on this subject, to promote the work of great social enterprises with innovative approaches to support homeless communities. We will also raise some questions about impact measurement, as organisations working with homeless communities face specific challenges.

Change Please, backed by the founder of the Big Issue magazine, started with an observation: Londoners love coffee. And coffee could make a difference. After having trained homeless as baristas, the organisation provides them with a temporary accomodation and a job: selling ethically-sourced coffee in the streets.


Can you say a few words on Change Please? How do you differentiate from other organisations dealing with the same issue of homelessness?

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I was moved to set up Change Please after seeing the power that social enterprise could have in effecting social change. I visited a ‘Silent Tea-House’ while on a holiday in Vietnam and I was so impressed by the commercial and social good that the enterprise was doing. It changed my opinion on how business could be a force for good. On the same trip, I completed the ‘rocking-chair test,’ where I was invited to consider my life at 90 and reflect on what I had achieved. I could see that I would not be happy living a life solely in the commercial world.

Change Please is unique because our model immediately lifts people out of homelessness through a sustainable employment model with the living wage, support with accommodation, mental wellbeing, opening bank accounts and accommodation. We do not seek to replicate the work of other organisations and we are very proud of our partnerships with organisations tacking homelessness.

What are you proud to have achieved with Change Please? What’s your next big objective?

There are so many areas of success that Change Please has had and so many achievements that it is difficult to know where to begin! It was five years ago that I first had the idea of Change Please and homelessness after meeting some people experiencing homelessness and seeing how much they had to offer.

The most difficult first step was turning the idea into reality and knowing where to look for support. Fortunately, there was so much around and I discovered a whole new world of people wanting to help and make a difference.

We have had many successes with individuals that we have supported on their journey out of homelessness and this has been extremely fulfilling to see. I have also been impressed with how many people from different backgrounds that we have managed to bring together from different backgrounds to help us reduce homelessness.

Our next big objective is to expand throughout the UK and abroad and launch our training academies. We recently received Charitable status and this will help us achieve our mission of ending homelessness once and for all.

What challenges do you face when measuring the impact you have on the homeless community?

We have been incredibly grateful to have received support from industry leaders, Can-Invest, TSIP and Northampton University for measuring our impact. This meant that we were able to design some very powerful and useful tools for monitoring our impact and putting it into the context of other organisations in the sector.

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Originally, we were finding that impact was an ‘extra’ piece of our work and we found we were not making it a regular part of our operational work. We have now over-come this, and it is now embedded into our operations.

As well as this, communicating with our Beneficiaries about the need for impact monitoring, without making it too invasive was more difficult at the beginning of our journey. We now find it easier but we have to make clear its importance to each new Beneficiary that we take on.

Any news that you would like to share with us?

We are now in the third year of our operations and will be launching three exciting new projects; our retail based expansion in Manchester where we will be opening eight new sites; our retail expansion in London where we will be launching eight new sites on TFL and locations and finally the launch of our Training Academy.The Training Academy is a huge step in our development and will allow us to train and recruit even more people experiencing homelessness as Baristas.

We are always on the lookout for people to join us in supporting our mission and help end homelessness once and for all.