Airbnb announced the expansion of its Open Homes platform, which offers free, temporary housing for patients and their families traveling for treatment or respite stays.
Too often, the cost of temporary housing, gas and meals away from home can be a barrier for patients with cancer who need to travel long distances for treatment. However, there are programs throughout the United States that can help relieve some of the financial strain.
During the Biden Cancer Summit on September 21, Airbnb announced the expansion of its Open Homes platform, which offers free, temporary housing for patients and their families traveling for treatment or respite stays. Kristen Berlacher, senior manager, social impact for Airbnb, discussed the news while participating in a panel discussion on how the sharing economy can help patients with cancer, specifically focusing on reducing patients’ financial burden to receive the best possible care.
The inspiration for the Open Homes platform dates to October 2012, when superstorm Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey and New York City, explained Berlacher. What started as a random email from an Airbnb host who wanted to offer her spare bedrooms for free to the tens of thousands displaced by Sandy turned into a 24-hour engineering marathon to create a feature for people to volunteer their homes on Airbnb.
“This feature evolved into a dedicated platform called Open Homes, which we expanded to help refugees, matching asylum seekers in need of short-term accommodation with people willing to give them a place to stay,” Berlacher said in an exclusive interview with CURE.
And today, the platform is now available for people whose cancer treatment requires them to travel long distances and spend nights away from home. “When it comes to critical illness, no one should have to choose between life-saving treatment and putting food on their table,” Berlacher said.
The process is simple, Berlacher explained. Patients and their families can work with nonprofit organizations, such as The Fisher House Foundation, Make-A-Wish or Hospitality Homes, who partner with Airbnb. A coordinator from one of the organizations will book a place to stay directly on the platform. Treatment stays typically last 1 to 2 weeks and respite stays around 5 to 10 days. Airbnb plans to add new partners in the U.S. and abroad to help scale their impact and serve even more people in need, Berlacher said.
“Too often when you see the news or read the statistics, you can’t help but feel a sense of helplessness,” she said. “You think, ‘What could I as one person do to make a difference?’ Open Homes is an answer to that question, and it’s as simple as sharing the room down the hall.”
For those who wish to become a host, visit Open Homes online and create a listing by describing the space and when it will be available. Once a person is signed up, a nonprofit organization staff member can reach out if they feel the place is a good match for their patient or family.
“You don’t need any expertise and you have the opportunity to directly help someone in a time when they need it the most,” Berlacher said.