The recent volcanic eruption in Guatemala is only one of many natural disasters around the world which left many victims without access to adequate housing. (Image via U.S. News & World Report)

Airbnb Is Using Its Platform to Provide Housing During Natural Disasters

The home rental service allows individuals to register their homes as emergency shelters, bringing new meaning to 'loving thy neighbor.'
June 11, 2018
4 mins read

Airbnb has revolutionized travel for newer generations. Providing an alternative to overpriced resorts, dirty motels and hit-or-miss couch surfing, the company offers a more intimate and experiential stay in private homes around the world.

In the past year, Airbnb exceeded 100 million stays, 3 million of which were recorded on New Year’s Eve alone.

Despite its massive popularity, Airbnb is a company which refrains from shying away from activism. Since 2012, the company has hosted a program called “Open Homes,” which helps everyday people find a way to help displaced refugees by providing temporary emergency housing for individuals who otherwise have nowhere to go.

Through its position as the mediator between refugees and willing homeowners, Airbnb created a practical way for the average person to contribute in a significant manner to the refugee crisis. “Open Homes” has since provided over 17,000 one-night stays.

Airbnb is once again using its platform to make a global difference through a program being piloted in San Jose, California. The program is an extension of “Open Homes” and allows homeowners to register their homes as volunteer shelters in the case of natural disasters and to remain on standby lists.

Although the company housed people impacted by disasters in the past, it never implemented a standby list which anticipates and plans for future needs of victims.

The new program would provide more reliable access to safe places to stay for the victims of hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes and any other large-scale disasters.

Emergency housing is not only available to victims but also to volunteers who come to aid the affected areas and require housing.

Airbnb attributes their commitment to helping the community to the company’s core belief: “No matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, you deserve to belong.”

Currently, the new standby program is only being offered in San Jose, a location which seems fitting after being the site of massive flooding and over 14,000 displaced families in 2017.

During an interview, Sam Liccardo, the mayor of San Jose, said future earthquakes are the largest concern for citizens in his city, and Airbnb’s commitment to providing emergency shelter alleviates some of the fear associated with such a concern.

Airbnb intends to work closely with city governments to expand the program to other parts of the nation and the world.

Natural disasters and crises are commonplace on the news, and events such as the recent volcanic eruption in Guatemala highlight the dire need for emergency housing. The death toll from the June 3 disaster, for example, surpassed 100 victims, and a minimum of around 200 people are still missing.

Airbnb found a simple way for the global community to come together and literally open its doors to neighbors in need of assistance. Staying in each other’s houses, after all, is a step in the process of realizing the world is much smaller and kinder than what many ever could have anticipated.

Jamie Lovley, University of Maine

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Jamie Lovley

University of Maine
Journalism and Psychology

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