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Countless Australian residents have had to leave their homes behind as fires tear through the country, but one group’s innovative idea has allowed thousands of generous people to offer them a place to stay.
New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia are the worst hit states, with more than 1,300 houses having been destroyed so far in New South Wales alone.
Earlier this month, more than 100,000 residents fled from evacuation zones in the three worst-affected states, resulting in what is said to be the country’s largest-ever peacetime evacuation. Though some could turn to friends and family to put them up, many residents found themselves, and their pets, stranded.
In an effort to help those displaced by the fires, Australian resident Erin Riley shared a post on Twitter announcing she had space to take in people’s pets if they needed somewhere to keep them while being relocated.
A number of similar posts quickly popped up, so a group of volunteers, including Erin, came together to create the website Find A Bed as a way to connect those with a spare room to evacuees searching for a place to stay.
Paige Burton, Engagement Advisor at Equality Australia and co-founder of Find A Bed, told UNILAD the project came about as those ‘without skills relevant to fighting the fires’ wanted to do their part and ‘find a way to facilitate conversations’ between those offering and those in need.
The scheme is run by a ‘community of volunteers’ who gather requests for accommodation and match them with the most suitable available temporary or long-term placements.
Matches are based on location, accessibility, animals and other relevant factors that work to help evacuees be placed as quickly and conveniently as possible. Once a request for accommodation is received, a volunteer identifies potential matches before contacting each party and, if both agree, putting them in direct contact with one another.
Find A Bed was only set up at the start of January, but already 7,500 generous people have offered up their spare spaces to those in need.
Paige explained many of the offers have come from other Australian residents. However, as the world rallies around those suffering, offers have also come from countries as far as France.
Speaking of the amazing response the programme has had, Paige said:
It’s lovely, and very humbling. But not shocking, we know that kindness is and always has been the appropriate response to tragedy. As a community, we’re powerful and we’ve seen that in the response to this project.
The offers Find A Bed has received range from ‘space on the front lawn to camp’ and ‘places for chickens to stay’ to entire five-bedroom houses, with evacuees being welcomed to stay for anywhere between one night and six months.
More than 100 people, as well as ‘a heap of cats, dogs, more than 30 horses and 30 cows’, have benefited from offers found on Find A Bed so far.
One incredible example of the scheme at work involves someone who decided to gift their motor home to an Australian elder, named Aunty Gloria, who lost her home to the fires.
The caravan was kitted out with a full kitchen and bed, and numerous people across the country have volunteered to drive it in a relay-style from the Sunshine Coast in southern Queensland to Mogo in New South Wales, so Aunty Gloria can continue to reside on her ancestral Yuin land.
Volunteers working for Find A Bed have stressed they are unable to perform background checks on those offering their houses, saying information is instead collected on a ‘good faith’ basis. However, data is not shared with anyone except the potential match, and only after Find A Bed has received permission to put the two people in contact.
As Find A Bed is run by volunteers, the programme does not accept donations. Instead, the organisers are encouraging people to donate directly to people and organisations in need, such as firefighters, wildlife charities and suffering residents.
Paige admitted she wishes the government were doing more to help displaced residents, but stressed the importance of people coming together during the ongoing bushfire crisis.
Even though it may not feel like it, optimism is the correct response to situations like this.
We wish that the government were coordinating accommodation like this, but at the very least we hope that they will fully fund the emergency services so that money raised by many thousands of people around the world can be used by those who have lost their houses.
The Find A Bed co-founder went on to thank everyone who has already offered to help evacuees, and stressed the programme will continue throughout the crisis.
We anticipate being around for a while because this process is going to take quite a significant amount of time as people need to rebuild their lives.
We are so appreciative of everyone who has listed a house with us, and we are in awe of the tireless work that so many Australians are doing on the front line.
To those whose lives have been irreparably changed by the fires, we won’t forget about you. We’ll rebuild. Together.
Volunteers at Find A Bed are continuing to urge people to spread the message of its existence so they can help as many people as possible, whether it be by ‘getting new pyjamas in a certain size for someone who really needs them, or finding a caravan’.
The initiative is an incredible help to those suffering as a result of the bushfires, and the selflessness of everyone involved deserves a wealth of praise.
You can find out more about offering or finding a bed here.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
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