SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The “Open Homes" program allows people to stay in Airbnb hosts’ houses free of charge when there’s a natural disaster.
They’ve activated the program to help people who are trying to escape the wrath of Hurricane Dorian. Here on the Suncoast, there are several people who have opened up their homes for free to house displaced residents, evacuees and first responders of Hurricane Dorian.
“There’s no worst feeling than getting a call from the local police and saying listen you have to evacuate," said Charlie Shrem, a host for Airbnb who is participating in the Open Homes program.
Charlie Shrem knows. During Hurricane Irma, he says he got that call.
“What we experienced was, we were driving up to Atlanta and all the hotels tripled their rates," Shrem explained. "They all raise their prices for us and people are literally living in the lobbies of the hotels, like war zones.”
It’s what led the Shrems to find refuge in Airbnb’s Open Home program.
“The largest activation we’ve had was last year after the California wildfires, so [with] both Northern and Southern California we had about 4,000 hosts. Right now we’re a little bit over 1,100 hosts,” said Kellie Bentz, Global Disaster Response and Relief for Airbnb.
This Hurricane Dorian activation expands through Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Alabama and as of today, Tennessee, too.
“We typically work with local emergency management agencies that help us identify the locations where they’re trying to direct people to safe locations and that’s where we end up activating our hosts," said Bentz.
The company said it’s what could make the difference between staying in a life threatening situation or evacuating.
“We’d hope that this program is one that allows access and availability to those that don’t have the financial means otherwise," said Bentz.
Now, Shrem said it was time for him to pass it forward. As soon as his Airbnb was listed as an open home, he said it was 90 percent booked with people in need.
“Every day now I’m getting messages from people, [saying] I’m a first responder, my family is up in Vero Beach or I’m a pilot, I’m being evacuated, can I stay just one night? Can I use [the Airbnb] to shower? People are using it like a base station almost," Shrem said.
He’s encouraging others who have the ability to help to do so.
“I feel like Florida is very, when there’s a hurricane, people kind of joke that we’re cool, we’re laid back about it," said Shrem. "But really, the state comes together so much and that’s great to see, it’s nice living in a community like that.”
Airbnb said it has been been running this program since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but this particular activation for Hurricane Dorian is one of the largest ever for a natural disaster.
For more information about the Open Home program, click here.