Six steps to opening your home to evacuees in the wake of a disaster

Categories: Open Homes

When a disaster happens, you can open your home to people evacuated from their homes, relief workers, and others impacted by the event with Airbnb’s Open Homes program. Offering a spare room and a comfortable bed can help those in your community recharge, plan next steps, and get back on their feet.

Find out what nonprofit staff members and past hosts recommend for preparing your home to host neighbors who’ve fled theirs. We’ll walk you through six steps to take in order to open your home to people who can’t yet return home to theirs.

Get ready to host
Hosting is simple—all you need is a spare room or a home with a comfortable bed.  “The stresses that people experience after a disaster can be just as intense as the actual event—so offering safety, security, and a place to stay is a huge investment in an evacuee’s wellbeing and future,” explained Michael Bowers, who leads humanitarian operations for Mercy Corps.

By providing a safe place to stay, you’re already helping people in your community in a meaningful way during a time of need.

Respond to requests
You’ll get messages from people who are looking for a place to stay and think your home might be a good fit. Before anything’s official, you’ll get to chat with potential guests to better understand their needs. Before accepting the request, you can ask about their number of guests, pets, and any other information that will help you know what to expect.

It took a couple days for Andrew and Gabriela Berk, who opened their home in Los Angeles to people impacted by wildfires in November 2018, to start receiving requests on Airbnb. “We got a message that immediately gave me goosebumps,” Andrew explained. “It said: my mother just lost her home. She was evacuated to Chico, and then again to another city.” After exchanging a couple messages with the family, the Berks offered them the extra studio space on the side of their house.

Think about toiletries, wi-fi, and more
When preparing your space, Bowers encourages hosts to “think about the whole range of things that you take advantage of in your own home.” Essentials like fresh towels and toiletries, as well as access to wi-fi and laundry are all greatly helpful. Also, he pointed out, “basics that are available in your bathroom cabinet or under the shelf of your kitchen sink” might be very useful. “This is what people no longer have.”

Offer the comforts of home
“When you’re displaced by a wildfire, earthquake, or other natural disaster, it’s a very stressful and emotional time,” explained Felicia Carmichael, who manages corporate relations for All Hands and Hearts Smart Response. “To be able to come home at the end of the day to a home — not a sterile hotel room or a gymnasium full of people — is a very comforting experience.” Extra blankets or even a personal note can make a world of difference.

“Home is where you go to be with your family, to cook, to re-energize,” she continued. “It’s a place to feel comforted.”

Talk to guests before they check in
After you’ve accepted a reservation, feel free to ask your guests what would make them feel comfortable during their stay. Your neighbors might have items that they are looking for — like strollers, phone chargers, or other essentials. Offering extra items like energy bars, reading materials, and/or age-appropriate toys for children is not expected, but rather an opportunity to go the extra mile.

When the Berk family prepared to host, Gabriela was eager to buy clothes and get groceries for their guests, while Andrew was nervous about being too presumptuous about their needs. “I love the expression ‘a helping hand up, rather than a hand out,’” he said. “I thought, hold on, let’s talk to them first and see what they want — rather than offering something like a giant grocery cart of food.”

Be mindful of privacy
Some people want to chat and share meals with their hosts, while others keep to themselves. People who’ve fled their homes may be facing emotional hardships. For this reason, it’s important to respect their space if they request privacy. Feel free to ask how much privacy they would like at any point in the process.

“I can not understand the pain she was experiencing,” Gabriela said, of her guest. “She lost everything.” Andrew reiterated his wife’s sentiments. “It’s really important for us to give people their space and privacy as well,” he said, “because we didn’t know what they were going through — emotionally and also externally.”

By opening your home in the aftermath of a disaster to people who cannot yet return home to theirs, you can help your community recover from an event and build resilience. If you still have questions about how Open Homes works, you can read stories about people who’ve offered a place to stay to first-responders, relief workers, and volunteers that are engaged in long-term recovery efforts.

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