Volunteers build friendships with street-involved people one meal at a time

A group of volunteers gathers twice every month in downtown Halifax to share a meal and make friends with panhandlers and homeless people who feel like they are treated inhumanely.

"It's not the purpose of the group just to go out and do something good, it is to build friendships with street-involved people," said Brittney Harman, founder of Supper With Strangers.

The group started three years ago after Harman shared a meal with a stranger in need at a restaurant.

"I bought a lady a sandwich and she was allergic to it so I brought her in with me to get her food," Harman said.

"I realized as I got to know her, and sit down with her and eat with her, that it's just a lot more fun and she had more to her than I originally thought."

Brittney Harman

Harman's encounter with the lady inspired her to start the group on Facebook and to invite her friends and other people to join.

"It exploded," she said. About 60 people showed up to the first event.

"I think it's so big because people don't know how to interact with street-involved people and I commonly hear they want to, but just don't know how."

Michelle Porter, the CEO of Souls Harbour Rescue Mission in Halifax, said the biggest barrier to people reaching out to street-involved people is fear.  

Breaking barriers

"It's more of a fear than a stigma," said Porter. "When we talk about stigma, there's definitely that assumption that homeless people should fix themselves when they really don't have the support.

"But there's also this fear of going and speaking to someone that perhaps you think they're dangerous or that they are going to steal from you, when in fact they are just human beings like you and I."

Harman and the volunteers meet up on Saturdays around 9:30 p.m. "because street-involved people aren't out until 10 or 10:30."

She said the streets are filled with homeless people, panhandlers and victims of sex trafficking.

Sex trafficking an issue

"We have the highest rate per capita for sex trafficking in all of Canada so I see it a lot on the streets," Harman said.

The group is connected with an anti-sex trafficking movement that can provide help.

"We have connections for the girls if they need it, but really we know that we can't fix anyone's situation, whether it's sex trafficking or not. So we just make ourselves available and offer friendship and give them resources."

The group meets on Saturdays outside the iron gates of Halifax's Public Gardens. They pair up, sometimes pray as a group, and start searching the streets for people who are hungry.

"We just stand here, wait for people to gather. We even get new immigrants and we've had street-involved people join us to help other street-involved people once they've been helped."