Building Communities Kim Lachance Shandrow  | October 3, 2017

Opening Hearts and Homes: Airbnb Offers Shelter in Wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

In times of natural disaster, Airbnb urges members of its vast network of hosts to open their homes at no cost to those in need. The San Francisco-based short-term rental accommodations service swiftly once again stepped up when it activated its Disaster Response Program ahead of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, two of the most devastating tropical storms to make landfall in the U.S.

Starting on Aug. 23, the company began enabling hosts to offer free housing to evacuees, displaced residents and disaster relief workers in Texas before hurricane Harvey struck. No-cost Airbnb accommodations in certain regions of Texas and Louisiana remain available through Oct. 9 to “displaced neighbors” and the relief workers deployed to assist them.

“We encourage hosts in safe, inland areas to aid in this effort by listing their available rooms or homes on the platform to help the growing number of evacuees,” Kellie Bentz, Airbnb’s head of Global Disaster Response and Relief, said in a statement issued soon after Harvey hit.

Airbnb was recently recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) for its inspiring disaster response shelter initiative. As part of the USCCF’s annual Corporate Citizenship Awards, the company was named a finalist in the Best Disaster Response & Community Resilience Program award category. The awards, now in their 18th year, showcase how businesses can serve as powerful forces for good in communities across America and around the world.

“Airbnb is thrilled to be recognized for this program, and we are committed to continuing this important work across the globe with our incredible community,” Airbnb noted in a blog post.

The company also activated its disaster response community shelter initiative ahead of, during and after recent hurricanes Irma and Maria. Free Airbnb accommodations continue to be extended to displaced individuals and disaster relief workers in the Florida panhandle area, Greater Tallahassee, Miami and Tampa, as well as in Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and northern Georgia.

Airbnb launched its disaster response program in 2012 following Hurricane Sandy. As part of the program, thousands of participating accommodation hosts have donated “welcoming places to stay.” They provide emergency shelter to people not only affected by hurricanes, but also flooding, forest fires and other natural disasters, as well as “wars, conflict and other events.”

“Our hosts asked us to create a way for them to be seen as a resource by those in need, and we have,” Airbnb’s Disaster Response Program website reads. “One way we facilitate the wishes of the community is by activating our response tool.”

When natural disasters occur, Airbnb contacts registered hosts in areas near affected geographies, offering them the option to add their listing to the program’s shelter database. Hosts are asked to share extra space within their homes as emergency lodging with their displaced neighbors. Homeowners who graciously agree to take part list their spaces free of charge. Airbnb then waives their booking fees and provides technology to facilitate community-driven disaster support.

Airbnb is one of countless businesses lending a helping hand in the wake of the recent natural disasters to rock several regions of the U.S. To read the inspiring stories of other companies pitching in on cleanup, shelter and other community recovery and outreach efforts, check out this inspiring story.