WILKES-BARRE — Stuffed animals are piled in a corner of Carol Kozak’s hotel room — a temporary residence for this blind woman displaced when an accidental fire damaged her lifelong home at 45 S. Fulton St. on Jan. 11.
Kozak, 63, is warm and has most of the comforts of home, except for her beloved computer, but she has been thrust into a world of uncertainty — she doesn’t know where home will be.
The Red Cross has helped, so has the Commission on Economic Opportunity. The Luzerne County Area Agency on Aging is trying to find her a suitable place to live.
Trula Hollywood, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging, said Tuesday arrangements have been made to allow Kozak to stay at the Quality Inn for the short term. Hollywood said her staff is working with Kozak to find her a long-term residence.
But Kozak wants to keep her independence — she said she wants a place of her own.
“I lost my home,” Kozak said. “I didn’t have insurance, and I can’t afford to get it repaired. I just want to be able to live a life of dignity.”
Kozak’s residence in the Heights section was damaged by an electrical fire on Jan. 11. She was living with her daughter, Bobbi Wagner, and Bobbi’s two children and fiance, who are now in Matamoras, Pike County.
Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney said the fire damaged the attic, and the second floor received water damage. He said the home is in need of repair and would require an electrical inspection to ensure it was safe.
Kozak said that after her parents passed away, she was going to continue the insurance, but an on-site shed needed to be removed because the companies she talked to said it was a fire hazard.
Kozak said she couldn’t afford the $1,800 it would have cost to take the shed down and have it removed. So she never purchased a policy.
Now she is faced with significant repair bills that she can’t afford. She has set up an account at M&T Bank — the Kozak & Wagner Fire Benefit Fund. Donations can be received at any M&T branch.
Getting back to her home on South Fulton Street would be the best resolution for her, she said.
“I really don’t know the extent of the damage at my house,” Kozak said. “I can’t see, so it wouldn’t help for me to go there.”
Kozak said a cousin visited the house and discovered it was ransacked. Kozak assumes someone broke in, but she doesn’t know if anything was taken.
She has not spoken to her daughter in days, saying only that their relationship is a bit strained right now. But Kozak, who collects Social Security disability, needs her food stamp card and her medical cards. She doesn’t know where they are.
Kozak doesn’t want to live in an assisted-living facility.
“They take all of your money and give you $60 a month,” she said. “I can’t live on $15 a week.”
Kozak loves to use the computer. She sends and receives e-mails with the help of a device that reads to her and she listens to music. She said she used to have a piano and would compose music.
She doesn’t have her computer at the motel; she said she doesn’t even know where it is. Kozak said she stayed home most of the time and rarely had visitors. Her life was inside her home and in front of her computer.
Through it all, Kozak is determined to retain a quality of life in which she is content. She doesn’t want to be restricted.
“It’s hard to put this into words, but I can’t seem to get anybody to understand,” she said. “I want to be able to live a life in surroundings I can call my own.”
She has lived at 45 S. Fulton St. since she was 5 years old. “It’s the only home I’ve ever known,” she said.
She regrets not having insurance. “That was stupid, I know,” she said. “And I always used to wonder what would happen if we ever had a fire.”
With limited options, Kozak has not yet reached the point of resignation.
“Ideally, I wish I could live with a nice Catholic family,” she said. “I would pay my own way.”
A member of St. Nicholas in Wilkes-Barre, Kozak said she gets to church when she can find transportation.
She said she just wants normalcy returned to her life, but she doesn’t know how to make that happen.
“I’m not trying to be difficult,” she said. “But I guess if nothing can be done, I’ll have to go where they take me.”