Being homeless or on the precipice of becoming homeless can be dehumanizing and isolating. It can mean being afraid to tell anyone where you sleep, talking to your children on a borrowed phone or losing hope.
For many people living with such an uncertain future, finding someone to talk to or who can provide help can be daunting, and for many, embarrassing.
Since the beginning of this year, more than 200 people have walked into the Fort Jackson Building on Washington Street in Waynesburg looking for just that – someone who could offer help.
In the lobby of the Fort Jackson Building is a door just to the left. A sign says, “Please knock before entering.”
Sitting at one of the desks is Zabryna Karnes, an unassuming, nonjudgmental 34-year-old woman who is about to become the best friend of someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming so.
For the last year, Zabryna has been employed by the Greene County Human Services Department as a GPATH homeless outreach worker. GPATH is an acronym for Greene County Project for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness. In other words, she helps people who may need immediate shelter or referrals to other agencies within the county.
So, what makes walking through Zabryna’s door so special?
Because, she said, “I have been there. I know.”
Zabryna’s life has not been easy, and one quickly learns after spending time with her that she does not feel sorry for herself.
She freely admits she used drugs while in a relationship with a man who is the father of her daughter. That relationship ended in 2011. But the mother of two – a son and daughter – still wonders if he walked through her door, “Would I take him back? I think about it every day.”
The family of four lived in various places – first a trailer in Waynesburg, then a rental unit owned by the man’s brother, and last, from March 2009 to March 2011, with the man’s parents.
“After we split up, I didn’t have a place to call home,” she said. From March 2011 to February 2012, she stayed with friends and family, including her mother, an arrangement commonly referred to as “couch surfing.”
“That was one of the lowest points in my life,” she said.
During that time, she applied for cash assistance and was referred to the Work Ready Program at Community Action.
In March of last year her life began to turn around. “I remember taking my daughter to Head Start, and she looked at me and said, ‘Mom, I am so proud of you.”’ And then the call came from the county for the position of outreach worker.
“I have a home now through Connect Inc., and I am in a good place now.”
While Zabryna was not homeless for a long time, she spent many years in transition, not really having a place she could call home. “I have to say my children are the most positive things in my life, but my daughter is my guardian angel, and she was my strength,” Zabryna said.
“I am so happy to be able to give that second chance to so many people because I was given a second chance, maybe a third or fourth. I really don’t know.”
If asked, Zabryna said she would advise people to suck up their pride and do whatever is needed to be where they want to be .
“Other than my daughter, my mother was an inspiration to me. Also, without my friends’ support I would not be who I am and where I am,” she said. “They never judged me and never gave up on me. I have a family, again.”