WASHINGTON, Dec 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - H ome-sharing giant Airbnb will enlist its global network of millions of participants to help house aid workers and health care staff working to fight COVID-19, it said on Monday, aiming to fill a gap in shelter options amid the pandemic.
The program will help arrange free or reduced cost housing for international aid workers responding to disasters and to medical personnel engaged in coronavirus testing and vaccine work, said Katherine Woo, executive director of a new nonprofit, Airbnb.org, that will oversee it.
It also will provide housing for victims of natural disasters who before the pandemic would have stayed in large-scale locations like gyms and now are staying in hotels, Woo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Airbnb has 4 million hosts who rent out their homes through the online network in 100,000 cities worldwide.
“We’re finding that emergency management agencies as well as guests themselves are finding our type of accommodation more appealing, where a family can have the whole place to themselves, feel comfortable and have access to a kitchen,” Woo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Woo is an Airbnb host who last summer housed guests fleeing the California wildfires.
“One family said, ‘We’ve been crashing on friends’ couches for a while, and we feel uncomfortable in our friends’ space,’” she said, adding that the family included parents, three children and two large dogs.
The company has been allowing its hosts to offer their spaces free or at reduced cost since 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and Airbnb.org will be a non-profit spin-off.
It will be independent but will get some funding from its parent company, which started in 2008.
Since 2012, more than 100,000 users in 100-plus countries have offered space for those in need, helping around 75,000 people find accommodation, Woo said.
Response was particularly robust in response in the Australian bushfires early in 2020, she said.
“We’ve built up a supply of hosts who are signed up, opted in and willing to go,” said Woo.
“That’s our goal - to be at the ready and make sure we have a deep-enough set of hosts to be ready on a moment’s notice, certainly in areas that are very disaster-prone.”
The program has helped house workers and volunteers with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Community Organized Relief Effort during pandemic-related missions.
The tie-up has allowed IFRC volunteers in Mexico to “safely isolate from their loved ones while they carried out their vital work”, IFRC under-secretary general Nena Stoiljkovic said in an email, and “enabling teams to be located within the very communities they are working tirelessly to support.” (Reporting by Carey L. Biron, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org)