The next few weeks will be critical for the 56 Bernal neighbors displaced by last weekend’s big five-alarm fire. Donations have been flowing in, and several fundraising efforts are getting underway to provide longer-term support and rent money. (More on these soon.) But in the meantime, the fire victims must find places to stay, because the current shelter won’t stay open for very long — and besides, it’s rather spartan there.
It’s the kind of situation that makes you think: Hmmmm. If only there was a system that could connect fire-displaced neighbors with the many generous people in the area who would be willing to make extra rooms available for them, for free, on a temporary basis. In other words, if only there was something sort of like Airbnb, but for disaster victims who need interim emergency housing while they search a more permanent place to stay.
Fortuitously, such a thing actually exists, and it’s called… Airbnb. Specifically, it’s Airbnb’s Disaster Response & Relief Program, and it was activated yesterday for victims of the Mission Street fire in collaboration with the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management and the Red Cross. Here’s how Airbnb says the program works:
When disasters strike, we can activate our response tool for a designated geographic area. When the tool is activated:
- Airbnb automatically Emails hosts in the affected area, asking them if they are able to help
- Existing hosts and local residents with extra space can host those in need for free
- All Airbnb bookings in the affected area are fee-free
- All hosts have access to Airbnb’s 24/7 customer support, Trust & Safety tools, Host Guarantee and other services regularly available to Airbnb hosts
- We use our networks to provide general disaster response information to guests and hosts
By way of backstory, Bernalwood learned about Airbnb’s disaster assistance program a few years ago, and we remembered it on Sunday, after visiting the Salvation Army shelter on Valencia where some of the fire victims are staying. A friend connected us with the manager of Airbnb’s disaster relief program, and we reached her as she was on her way back from Orlando, where Airbnb had been assisting families recovering from that city’s horrific gay nightclub shooting. On Monday Airbnb was in contact with the Department of Emergency Management, and by Monday evening, the program was ready to go. The email went out to local Airbnb hosts on Tuesday, and free listings for fire victims began appearing on the Mission Fire disaster page soon after:
Airbnb’s program for the Mission Street Fire victims will operate in coordination with the local Red Cross. Airbnb tells Bernalwood:
Our thoughts are with those affected by the fire in San Francisco over the weekend. We have activated our Disaster Response Tool and encourage our host community in the surrounding area to aid displaced residents with housing.
Right. We encourage that too. Now that things are all set up, please consider joining the Disaster Response program if you have an Airbnb listing that you can make available to assist a displaced neighbor on a temporary basis. It’s a tremendously neighborly thing to do, at a time when some of our neighbors need it most.
PHOTO: Top, Neighbors displaced by the Mission Street Fire on Saturday evening. Photo courtesy of Sana Saleem