We have thousands of Katrina’s homeless. We have thousands of people across America with extra beds. How do you connect these two groups?
Moved by the devastation and homelessness facing thousands of Americans displaced by Katrina, 29-year old Joel Otterstrom and his Web design business partners – Eran Greenburg, 30, and John Peterson, 31, decided to do something about it.
They could see there were few options for the thousands of people who needed housing except to go places like Craig’s List, the popular Internet site used around the world for finding homes, jobs, dates and miscellaneous merchandise.
But no way existed for people to sort through the online postings to find the offers that specifically met their needs.
An idea was born. Beginning at noon and driving hard through the day, by 1 a.m. Wednesday, Otterstrom and his partners had purchased a domain name and built katrinahousing.org. By Thursday morning 10 had signed up to offer beds. “When we left the office Thursday night, there were 800 people. By Friday night we had 8,000 people,” said Paul Wilson, who is marketing the site.
Through a counter on the left upper corner of Katrinahousing, a running talley is kept for number of beds offered and of survivors placed. As of this writing 123,244.5 beds are available through the generosity of many (though we’d like to know who is offering the .5 bed) and 3743 survivors have been placed.
Already the site is receiving over one million hits per day.
The media has jumped on and perpetuated the growth of katrinahousing.org. The story has been picked up on the AP wire, CNN, MSNBC and many other news channels. The principals have been interviewed by Sean Hannity and Fox News.
On www.katrinahousing.org, people offering housing provide their zip codes, the number of people they can accommodate, how long space is available, and whether pets, smokers or children are allowed. Refugees can then zero in quickly on the factors that interest them. Like Craig’s List, katrinahousing.org is dedicated to helping people connect with one another and does not verify the information posted.
Craig’s List and homeflood.org, another website that had been taking information, are working together to consolidate their lists on katrinahousing.org’s site.
Of course, the disparity between the number of offers for beds and the number of placements points to the biggest challenge the survivors face. Unfortunately, many people in need of housing are not aware of what’s available to them. “The Red Cross and other agencies are so overwhelmed, they’re not able to get these lists out there, even to people who have already left New Orleans,” Otterstrom says.
The survivors often do not have access to a computer. They are living in shelters or displaced.
Volunteers have come forward to help solve this problem, too. Survivors can call 800-917-3490 for information on housing. The call center has been donated by Zion’s Bank which according to Paul Wilson, “has taken a huge load off of us.”
In addition, a volunteer in Houston’s Astrodome has set up a computer camp so that survivors can look for housing. Several large faith-based organizations are handing out the housing list to survivors.
Katrinahousing.org is not looking for monetary donations for this effort, but they do need additional call centers if a business can offer them.
Among those offering a variety of different kinds of support to this effort are:
Verio Webhosting, the largest hosting company in the world, who have offered free servers. “There’s no way we could have kept up with the kind of traffic we are receiving without their help,” said Wilson..
MyTechSupport offered the offices that are being used as a command base
Winkdesign donated the design of the site.
Katrina Caravan is providing the transportation out of Houston for people who have found homes and they are hooking people with family members.