Fire leaves J&C family homeless and wondering what’s next


Jessica Carney-Perks

The GoFundMe fundraiser organized by Yvonnda Pitney for others to donate to their cause and share their story.

Jessica Carney-Perks

“We lost our home because we were ignored. Shrugged off. Dismissed. It took a nightmare for anyone to listen,” said Yvonnda Pitney, single mother to five and former resident of South 36th Street. 

A home can be known as four walls, a person or even a feeling that restores comfort and a sense of stability; but, what happens when this place no longer exists? What’s next? These are the questions a family from our very own Journalism and Communication magnet have been left to ponder during already uncertain times.

In December of 2020, the Pitney family lost their home to an electrical fire.  Their lives took a turn for the worse in what was supposed to be a month of celebration and a closing to a turbulent year. 

“At first, we were experiencing gas leaks and other issues with the house that we kept reportng to the landlord. He would send an employee most often. Their responses were all the same: ‘It’s normal for an older house,’ ‘It’s minor’ or ‘Make a quick fix,” Pitney said.

Soon the gas leaks had begun to get more frequent and sparking had begun to occur around the basement fuse. Pitney took action into her own hands and called LG&E herself after her landlord failed to make the necessary adjustments and fix the leaks.

“They told me that the sparking was because of the heaters and the previous gas leaks, but that didn’t help me protect my family then. It was like no one cared or understood the severity of what was happening to us,” Pitney said.

Pitney began to look into her moving options, with her family’s safety a top priority. She needed to find a home large enough to house the six of them, that was also within the children’s school district and accessible through Section 8 government housing assistance. The necessary requirements and limited options available presented a difficult situation. 

“Everything was just so stressful because I didn’t want to endanger my children… Above all, we just knew we needed to get out before things escalated,” Pitney said.

Unfortunately, as Yvonnda Pitney predicted, events not only escalated but spiraled out of control.

“Right before Christmas, one of my kids called out to me from downstairs. At first I didn’t think much about it, until I heard the second ‘Mama!’ Then I knew something was wrong,” Pitney said.

Pitney immediately ran downstairs and found the basement consumed by flames. She swept up the keys and hustled her family into the car. The fire department arrived just five minutes after they called.

In horrified awe and devastation, the Pitney family watched their belongings and the comfort of their home go up in flames. 

Though many rooms were destroyed and personal belongings lost, the entire house didn’t catch on fire. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough information or evidence to obtain financial reimbursement or aid. 

“The house may not have been in pieces, but my kids lost everything that was theirs. It was already hard enough trying to adjust and prepare to move… It was unreal and just unfair. This could’ve been prevented if they [LG&E and the landlord] had listened. Now, we have to start over from scratch,” Pitney said.

The Pitney family has taken up residence in a hotel until they have enough money for a permanent or more consistently stable home. The raging pandemic and resulting high unemployment rates have done nothing to ease Yvonnda Pitney’s own unemployment status. 

The three bedroom home and basement that consisted of a single mother, two high schoolers, one elementary schooler and two younger ones still at home has been ripped from them. Now, the walls seem to be closing in on their smaller, two-bed hotel suite. 

Beyond the physical infrastructure of their home being lost, the children have also been mentally and emotionally impacted.

“My kids have really been struggling with NTI and communication with teachers because of the fire. The daycare my younger kids go to is closed due to COVID. It’s just harder to focus, let alone think when everyone is suffocated in a room. It is hard to expect young kids to hold it together when I am struggling to make ends meet,” Pitney said.

 The family continues to fear that it could all happen again, on edge about past events and current circumstances. 

“Every time my oldest smells fumes or hears something like a spark, they’re calling my name. Just scared. It breaks my heart that this is something they even have to worry about. Something they will never forget because it’s changing our life as we speak,” Pitney said.

As a way to restart their lives, the family has created a GoFundMe fundraiser, with a goal of $20,000. Donations will be used to cover their expenses and needs at the time, until Yvonnda Pitney secures job placement. 

With the loss of many of their personal belongings and transitioning to shared storage, the family is in need of storage totes, hangers and even furniture to help maximize their limited space.

Most importantly, the family needs financial support to pay for their residence at the hotel and a first month’s rent for their next prospective home.

Anyone interested in providing resources or donations should contact Yvonnda Pitney at [email protected].