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    Reflecting on the first year of Airbnb’s Open Homes program

    Here's how we're committing to help refugees as they restart their lives.
    By Airbnb on Jun 20, 2018
    5 min read
    Updated Dec 7, 2020

    Highlights

    • Inspired by the generosity of hosts, Airbnb launched the Open Homes program

    • On World Refugee Day, we're proud to stand with refugees and look back on the first year of hosts opening their homes for good

    Open Homes is now Airbnb.org
    Airbnb's Open Homes program has evolved into Airbnb.org, a brand-new 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Thank you for creating the Open Homes community with us. We're excited for you to be a part of this new chapter.

    When a U.S. travel ban was announced in 2017, we were inspired to take action—and we weren’t alone. It sparked an outpouring of generosity, prompting many of us to ask ourselves, “How can we help?”

    Open Homes was our answer to that question. Since then, we’ve become more convinced that there’s something simple all of us can do to help. And it’s important we don’t let that urge to help fade.

    How Open Homes started

    The idea of using Airbnb to house people in need came from a host in Brooklyn, New York, in 2012. She wanted to offer her home for free to people who’d been displaced by Hurricane Sandy.

    Once we built the capability for hosts to volunteer their spaces, more than 1,000 hosts joined in—and we realized this wasn’t confined to just one event. Since then, our team has responded to hundreds of disasters, and hosts have opened their homes to evacuees and relief workers all over the world.

    How we went from responding to disasters to serving the refugee community

    We realized this program could benefit more than just local displacement. Millions of people have to leave their homes because of conflict or political unrest—and they could end up becoming our neighbors.

    Since Airbnb’s mission is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere, we want to help serve individuals and communities in greatest need. That’s what Open Homes has set out to do.

    Through our programs, hosts have already housed more than 70,000 guests from more than 104 different countries. This includes people like Zak, a refugee from Yemen who moved to Denver and not only found a place to stay, but a new community and support system through his host Susan.

    What we’ve learned

    Now that we’ve covered a little history about Open Homes, here are the three major things we’ve learned over the past year—and the commitments we’re making in response to them.

    We can’t do this without our partners
    It’s already overwhelming to uproot your life, let alone learn to navigate the laws and cultural norms of a new home. Thankfully, organizations have spent decades helping refugees do this. They advocate for them on both the local and international stage and lobby to improve processes for everything from enrolling children in schools to finding jobs. And because of the work of these organizations, there’s a strong foundation for companies like Airbnb to offer help.

    That’s why this past year we focused on building strong partnerships with organizations, both local and global, who know best. We’re continuously learning from them and working together to build an Open Homes program that can work for the needs of the refugees they serve. Many agencies are already using Open Homes to find accommodations for their clients. Some of our partners have included the International Rescue Committee (IRC), SINGA, and Solidarity Now.

    One of the most valuable things we’ve learned from our partners is how to work with vulnerable populations. We’ve learned that even the most well-meaning person can unintentionally make someone uncomfortable. Our team has gone through sensitivity training and is committed to providing sensitivity training materials to all Open Homes hosts.

    We need to design with the communities we serve, not for them
    Over the last year, our team took several trips to Athens, Greece, to meet with local nonprofits and hosts who’d expressed interest in Open Homes. We talked to caseworkers, volunteers, refugees, and people who’d already hosted refugees through Solidarity Now’s Home for Hope program. We were in awe of these agencies’ efforts, and also of the incredible courage of the refugees we met.

    We left Athens with one major finding: Every city faces unique social, economic, and political circumstances. Because of this, we’re committed to building a diverse team that represents the communities we serve and can speak to their challenges. That’s the only way we’ll be able to build a global initiative that’s rooted in empathy.

    After these trips, our team also made a pledge to do field work each quarter. And it wouldn’t be a select few who’d go—everyone on our team would be required to participate in research or field work throughout the year. We need to design with people on the ground—not just for feedback, but also for inspiration.

    Our community can help change the narrative
    Refugees face a great deal of prejudice, stemming from all the negative rhetoric and common misconceptions surrounding the issue. Even the term “refugee” is commonly misused. It’s taken lengthy conversations with government agencies and nonprofits for us to truly comprehend the extent of the crisis. But what we’ve learned is that these misconceptions can turn into unfounded fears.

    To be granted refugee status, you have to meet the legal definition of “refugee.” This means offering sufficient proof that you can’t return home because you face persecution, along with undergoing thorough screening. Just knowing that might help people feel more compassion and less concern.

    Inspired by the work of those like Refugees Deeply, we’re now more committed than ever to helping shift this narrative. We’re starting by documenting stories of people who are experiencing the crisis first hand. Our hope is that our community can help us share these stories more broadly and help chip away at the stigma associated with the word “refugee.”

    Looking ahead

    In numbers, our first goal is to help hosts house more than 100,000 people in need by 2022. This is just an initial milestone—not the end goal. We know that vulnerable communities will always need a place to feel safe, welcome, and accepted.

    To support this goal, our work needs to go beyond the numbers. We need to help unite people who believe everyone should have a safe place to call home. People who don’t hesitate to take someone in when they’re unexpectedly uprooted. People who believe kindness costs nothing. And we’re grateful to the organizations and hosts who are working with us to help make this a reality.

    Join a growing community that unlocks the power of sharing during times of need.

    Information contained in this article may have changed since publication.

    Highlights

    • Inspired by the generosity of hosts, Airbnb launched the Open Homes program

    • On World Refugee Day, we're proud to stand with refugees and look back on the first year of hosts opening their homes for good

    Airbnb
    Jun 20, 2018
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