It was following a pro-Ukrainian protest in Balboa Park in February that Avi Schiffmann couldn’t help but feel he had to do something to help.
“I know how to make all these websites and apps and, you know, I felt like nobody was going to do that,” said San Diego resident Schiffmann. “Then why don’t I do it?” So, I created this website.
Schiffmann, 19, is a student at Harvard University who excels in coding. Two years ago, he developed a website to help track the spread of the coronavirus. So he didn’t think twice before using his skills to help this time.
“That night I started working on the user interface design and the basic structure of the site, I fell asleep, I woke up in the morning and called my friend Marco from the university, who is an amazing web developer,” Schiffmann said.
The pair worked almost nonstop to create a website that would be easy enough to navigate for people offering help and those seeking it.
Then, on March 3, just four days later, they launched Ukraine Take Shelter. The website is in 12 languages and it is a place where Ukrainian refugees can find hosts with spare rooms.
“It’s like a public newsletter that you can take with you wherever you are,” Schiffmann said.
On the website, refugees enter their current location and dozens of hosting offers appear. Listings include the language spoken by the host, information about available space, and whether pets are allowed.
In its first week, more than 5,000 potential hosts from around the world, including San Diego, offered accommodation.
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“When I saw that there was a site connecting people all over the world, with the ability to house and people who need a safe place to stay, you know, temporarily, I was really impressed with that,” said Janene Simon, a San Diego Host on the site.
Simon has family in Ukraine. For her, listing their home was just another way to help her loved ones.
“We are really grateful to the real volunteers or the people who welcome all these refugees into their homes,” Schiffmann said. “We have heard incredible stories.”
What started as a simple idea, now helps a lot in finding a safe place to stay across the world.