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A cup of coffee with a brochure next to it, the text reads "For change, tackling youth homelessness together"

How a tram stop café is helping break the cycle of youth homelessness

March 5, 2024
July 27, 2022

The team at For Change Co., a Melbourne-based social enterprise working with young people to avoid homelessness, has just opened the doors of their brand new café. We spoke to co-founder and Bank Australia customer Tenille Gilbert to find out more.

Imagine if your morning cuppa did more than just satisfy your need for caffeine; if your strong soy latte or cappuccino with extra chocolate went towards training up young people with hospitality skills, and breaking the cycle of homelessness?

That’s exactly what the team at For Change Co. are doing. We chatted to Tenille last year about the For Change Co. model, which welcomes young people at risk of homelessness and provides them with the skills and confidence they need to enter the workforce.

For Change building in front of a train station

After a young person is referred to For Change Co. by a housing service provider, they begin training at a coffee cart at Melbourne’s RMIT University. From here, they move to a café environment at in Brunswick, where they build skills in both food and customer service. Then, it’s onto the fast-paced home.two café at the University of Melbourne, where the focus is on building autonomy.  

In exciting news, For Change Co. has just opened a brand-new café – in a pretty special location too. “It’s a very unique building, because it was built to be a tram stop on the Middle Park light rail,” Tenille explains.

The heritage site has been leased to For Change Co. under a peppercorn rent agreement (a lease with nominal rent) by Yarra Trams. “Yarra Trams had heard about the work we’d been doing and just reached out to see how they could help,” recalls Tenille. “They were really keen to offer the space to a social enterprise, so we were lucky to get the call up!”

Jade completed training with For Change Co. last year. Along with learning new skills, she’s grateful for the encouragement she’s received throughout the program. “What has been an amazing experience for me is the support I receive from my trainer. He is very patient with me,” she said. “This helps me know that my place of work is a place where I can keep improving.”

“Being able to afford things, it’s the most essential thing,” added Simon, another For Change Co. participant. “I don’t think I would be able to do this without them. It’s hard to find a job without experience.”

Getting For Change Middle Park ready to open has been a team effort, with architects, project managers and tradies offering their work pro bono. “Lots of people chipped in in different ways, like Cloud Architecture, Jointly Builders, James Richardson Furniture and Chef’s Hat, and we’ve had a bunch of support in terms of discounts and extra help to make things happen,” says Tenille.

For Change Co. also ran a crowdfunding campaign, raising close to $110,000. “We were really unsure, especially during COVID, about what people’s appetite would be to give,” Tenille says. “But I think that, with everything that was going on, people were feeling generous about contributing to something like this.”

The new space means that For Change Co. can increase their training capacity by almost 50 per cent.

Two people working together at a café

“We’ve currently got about 18 young people in the program; the new space means we should be able to get close to 30 young people,” Tenille says. The space also opens up more opportunities for people to learn new things.

“Some of our trainees love being behind the coffee machine doing the barista side of things, but some of them are more interested in customer service or food. That’s where we can start to open up those opportunities,” Tenille explains. “The new café will increase the number of young people coming through the program and, long term, it’ll increase the scope of what we can offer.”

In a city with thousands of cafes, why should you get your coffee from For Change Middle Park?

“You’re always going to have a good experience, both with the coffee and the customer service you receive at For Change,” Tenille says. “But when you spend your money with us, you’re getting more than just a great coffee. You’re also supporting young people to enter into training and employment to break the cycle of homelessness. It’s your opportunity to decide where you want your dollars to go.”

Participant names have been changed for privacy reasons.

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