For the past five years, Airbnb has stepped in during emergencies— the earthquake in Japan, or wildfires in Canada — to pair volunteer hosts with people in need. The whole thing has been rather rudimentary by the standards of a sophisticated tech company. Airbnb staffers draw up spreadsheets of hosts in affected areas, send email blasts out to them, and make introductions. Now, the company has launched a new platform to formalize and grow its efforts. Dubbed the “open homes platform,” it’s a homesharing site for hosts motivated by goodwill instead of profits — and for guests motivated by need rather than wanderlust.

“Our community can respond faster than governments can show up,” says founder Joe Gebbia, who stopped by Backchannel’s New York headquarters to give me a demo.

Anywhere in the world, where people need short-term housing after a natural disaster, we could have our community ready within hours.”

To start, the platform will connect refugees with volunteer hosts in Canada, France, Greece, and the United States. People can register on the site — even if they aren’t already hosts on Airbnb — and list their homes. Social service agency partners will vet them, and then place families for stays from a few days to a few weeks. “This is the buffer housing before a family finds permanent or longer term housing,” says Gebbia. Ultimately, the site isn’t meant only for refugees. Site visitors can also nominate other groups of people for temporary placements, and Gebbia says the platform will expand to include them eventually. Airbnb has said it wants to house 100,000 displaced people within the next five years.

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