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Utah County Airbnb hosts open homes to evacuees

September 20, 2018

The Pole Creek and Bald Mountain wildfires are still burning on, but the Utah County community continues to help those impacted.

In addition to the overwhelming community outreach on the part of various community partners, families and friends, many local Airbnb hosts are also reaching out to house those displaced by the fires. These hosts are part of Airbnb’s Open Homes Program, which allows evacuees to find temporary accommodations with local hosts free of charge.

Holly Loveless has been an Airbnb host since June. She is excited to open her two-bedroom basement accessory apartment to help out an Elk Ridge family of six coming to her Orem home Sunday or Monday. The family booked with her this week and plans to stay for a number of days.

“It’s nice to be able to have a place for them to go,” she said Wednesday.

Before they heard about the program, Loveless said her husband mentioned offering their space to evacuees. They didn’t know how to reach out to those who were displaced, though. When they saw the Open Homes notification, they signed up immediately.

“It was already exactly what we wanted to do, so it worked out great,” Loveless said.

Utah County evacuees, emergency and relief workers are eligible for temporary free housing through the Airbnb Open Homes Program. They sign up through https://airbnb.com/openhomes, and select the option to find shelter. The Airbnb platform then connects them with local hosts and booking dates.

Graden and Kaylen Nelson, who are also Airbnb hosts connected to the Open Homes Program, were glad to host a tired woman trying to get home from work to Price this past weekend. U.S. Highway 6 was closed because of the Pole Creek Fire, and she was too tired to drive the extra three hours the long way around. She rested up in the Nelson’s American Fork home before heading on her way.

The Nelsons have been Airbnb hosts since March, and were glad to join the effort to shelter displaced residents.

“We have two extra rooms in the basement where we are already hosting strangers each week, so we thought, why not? If someone is in desperate need, we’d love to be hosting them,” Graden Nelson said, adding that he feels hosting is in his blood. He grew up watching his parents.

“We constantly had strangers around the dinner table,” he said.

Amber Savage, executive director of the American Red Cross of Central and Southern Utah, has been on the ground serving the southern county cities affected by the wildfires since the beginning. She applauds the entire community’s outreach to evacuees. The Red Cross, in partnership with the Nebo School District, opened a shelter and evacuation center last week, but ended up closing it Monday, because so many local residents took in evacuees.

The first night a handful of families came forward with sheltering needs, but she watched as, just as quickly, other families came forward offering rooms, recreational vehicles and other living spaces to these evacuated residents.

She wasn’t surprised by this, though, because it regularly happens here in Utah. She explained that nationally about 10 percent of evacuees need Red Cross shelter services, but in this area, that number is less than 1 percent.

“It was awesome. It was truly neighbor helping neighbor,” Savage said Wednesday. “The resource networks here are so strong. Even the firefighters are taken care of.”

Red Cross teams are still very involved in the ongoing recovery efforts. Savage said they have been operating a mobile unit since the fires started, meeting people where they are and providing information, resources and meals.

Nelson said those looking for bookings under the Airbnb Open Homes Program should give as much info as they can about their situation so the hosts understand their needs. It also helps hosts feel safer about who might be staying in their home. The Open Homes program will run through Oct. 1.

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