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Airbnb hosts offering free housing to thousands of California wildfire evacuees

Posted at 11:26 AM, Oct 30, 2019

LOS ANGELES, Cali. -- California is in a state of emergency as wildfires rage through communities , leaving thousands displaced from their homes and searching for a safe place to stay.

Airbnb is offering relief to some evacuees through its Open Homes program , an online tool where displaced people and relief workers affected by the Kincade and Tick wildfires may find free accommodation until November 7.

Airbnb is encouraging homeowners in Santa Clarita, Sonoma County, and the surrounding areas to participate by listing their homes for $0 on the site.

The Kincade, Tick, and Getty fires have forced many residents to evacuate in the face of encroaching wildfires and power shutoffs. The Kincade Fire alone has displaced almost 200,000 people over an estimated 50,000 acres.

Current hosts may choose one of their existing listings or create a new one for the cause. Those who aren't already Airbnb hosts may make a verified Airbnb account and list their home.

Through Open Homes, Airbnb organizes relief stays for people needing a home or bed in the face of natural disaster, war, conflict, or other disastrous events. The program acts as a tool for people to open their homes in affected areas.

"Hosts can play an important role in their community's response and recovery — just by offering their extra space," according to the Open Homes website. "Since 2012, hosts have opened their doors to people affected by disasters all over the world."

Once Airbnb activates the response tool for an affected area, it reaches out to established hosts and asks if they have a space available. Participating hosts list their homes for free on the website and Airbnb waives all booking fees.

Once hosts opt into the program, their home appears available on the Open Homes booking tool to all those from the affected area. Evacuees may then reach out to the host directly.

Airbnb has no clear system in place to ensure that people booking free stays are disaster victims, but the company says that "any reservation reported to have been made by a non-evacuee will be canceled and guests must leave the listing immediately."

Hosts who do not want to provide a $0 listing may offer a discount in their listing descriptions or titles but will not be visible on the Open Homes booking page.