By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney

From pastry chef to heroin addict and now trainee barista, Ecevit Tihsinhatga is rebuilding his life through his job at the Second Shot Coffee shop

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Videographer / director: Jack Stevens
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ruby Coote
Editor: Jack Stevens

Julius Ibrahim has opened a coffee shop with a difference in Bethnal Green

The mission of this east London café: to help ease people who’ve experienced homelessness back into the working world.

Only open a few months, it’s already transforming lives.

Ecevit, or Edge as his friends call him, said: “It’s kind of like I’m living a dream. I can remember living on the streets and being on class A drugs, and thinking to myself, ‘I wish I could just be normal, I wish I could just have a job.’

Customers can pay for an extra cup of coffee for a homeless person

“Second Shot showed me that there are people out there who do care and are here to help.”

He said: “A lot of people stereotype about homeless people and they don’t realise the diversity of the homeless and where they come from.”

Access to meaningful employment remains a major barrier for the homeless: 57% have been unemployed for three years or more, according to figures from charity Crisis – that’s in spite of the vast majority of homeless people wanting to work: (77% immediately and 97% in the future).

Before life on the streets, Edge had enjoyed a successful career making cakes and pastries for a catering company that supplied London hotels and cafes.

Julius said he couldn't believe the extent of London's homelessness problem when he first moved to London

He explained: “I came home one night from work to find that my ex was with another man. We had an argument, and I went a bit crazy and got in a fight.”

As a result Edge lost his job and went to prison.

Edge said: “When I came out my ex had my bags packed and because everything was in her name, I went on the street: instantly.”

With nowhere to call home and in, “a dark place mentally” Edge sofa-surfed while looking for jobs but as he put it: “because I’d been in prison no-one was gonna give me a job”.

His cafe now also employs people who once lived on the streets

Too embarrassed to keep asking favours from friends and family, Edge eventually found himself sleeping rough on the East End streets he’d grown up playing in as a boy.

Edge added: “When I was homeless, I felt very isolated, I kind of broke down a bit. It knocks your confidence.

“If you can imagine winter, freezing cold in a sleeping bag trying to keep warm, trying to sleep. You wake up and have to try and find yourself a meal. Lots of times I woke up and would ask myself, ‘Why? Why am I still here?’”

After sleeping rough for half a year, Edge started taking heroin to erase the physical and emotional pain.

Edge was once living on the streets. Now he works as a barista
Julius Ibrahim says we shouldn't stereotype anyone who has faced homelessness

He said: “It was what everyone was doing. I’m not going to say it helped but it makes you numb so you don’t feel what’s going all around you.”

Astonishingly, Edge managed to come off heroin without any medical assistance. Following his incredible achievement, Edge met his current partner and found accommodation through the local council.

However, the former pastry chef still struggled to find long-term employment – until Second Shot café opened in May 2016.

Founder, and owner of the café, Julius Ibrahim says some of the biggest barriers those who’ve experienced homelessness face is being stereotyped.

The average person in the UK is only two paychecks away from homelessness

He said: “The biggest issue that any person who has been affected by homelessness faces is trying to tackle and break down the social stigma.

“I think people always feel it can’t happen to them but in reality the average person in the UK is only two paycheques away from becoming homeless.

“It literally can happen to anyone and getting people to understand and getting people to give you a second shot is really challenging.”

Edge has beaten an addiction to heroin, found love and accommodation

Second Shot’s 22-year-old founder dropped out of university to start up the social enterprise.

Julius explained: “I moved to London in 2013 and I was kind of surprised that there wasn’t anything more being done to alleviate the problem so I just wanted to do something and raise the profile of the issue really.”

Working alongside Julius and Edge is head of coffee Emilio Rodriguez. With an extensive background working in the coffee industry, Emilio has been charged with ensuring Second Shot serves up quality speciality coffee.

Emilio said: “We try to get the best coffee we can - the best beans in Europe and at the same time we can help the community.

The coffeeshop serves speciality coffees

“We have 10 to 15 people coming from the streets every day using the pay it forward system and they are regulars so when you see that and everything that we put in place with the coffee it’s really rewarding.”

Through Second Shot’s pay it forward system, customers prepay for food and drink to be given to the homeless. Customers can also hand their loyalty cards to someone living on the street to claim a free coffee after collecting just three stamps, compared to the usual required six stamps.

Emilio Rodriguez is head of coffee at Second Shot

In the few months Second Shot has been open, it has employed three people who’ve experienced homelessness and served up 300 meals to people on the streets.

Edge said: “There are not many places like this anywhere. Someone from the street can come in and feel like the part of the community.

“We take people here at face value, we don’t discriminate. Whoever you are, whatever you need, if we can help, we do. And for me that really feels like home.”