ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Some people evacuating areas in the United States that are in Hurricane Dorian's path are coming to Southwest Virginia to hunker down, and some of them are getting nice accommodations for free.
Airbnb activated its open homes program for the storm, connecting hosts who want to help with those that need it. The program started in 2012 following Hurricane Sandy. Airbnb sent out the call to action looking for hosts, and people in the area, as well as the rest of the Southeastern United States, responded in droves.
Up a gravel road in North Roanoke County, there's a place where you just feel safe. There's a guest book inside the in-law suite in the woods that proves visitors have come from all across the globe to stay there. It's Julie Atkins' place, nestled just a mile from the Appalachian Trail, and she loves to share it.
"People come for all sorts of reasons, it's just amazing, it's a funeral it's a wedding, it's hiking, of course, it's biking," Atkins said.
She's getting a new type of guest Wednesday as Hurricane Dorian continues to barrel along the east coast. More than a million people are looking for refuge ahead of the storm and some are finding it in our area.
"She's coming tomorrow, she's coming from the coast, it's a five-hour drive, they're being evacuated," Atkins said of her guest.
More than 1,300 evacuees and relief workers are staying for free through the open homes program with one of the more than 1,300 hosts who volunteered to take them in for free. The company told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that many hosts do it out of the goodness of their hearts.
"What we find is that this provides a moment of comfort and relief and allows hosting guests to connect in ways that they may not otherwise would," a company spokeswoman said.
A quick look at the booking map in our area shows dozens of rentals available, all with a big "$0" in the flag above it. Because both the hosts and the company waive their fees and charges, no one gets paid, and many hosts see this as their way to help. Airbnb said some people even become hosts specifically to help.
"Some people literally just come on for these activations; they will never become an Airbnb host, nor are they interested They literally just want to do this for free," the spokeswoman said.
Atkins' listing is one of the first that shows up for the area. It's aptly named "cozy studio in the forest" for the fact that its location is a nature lover's paradise. Of all the regular listings in the Roanoke Valley, she said people choose her place specifically for the tranquility it offers. She hopes that not only will her place be useful, but that the peace and quiet will be helpful to someone going through one of the scariest times of their life.
"If it was your family, if it was my family, I would do it happily, therefore somebody else, they're people, too, and so I look at them like family, I just want to make things better for them," Atkins said.
Airbnb said it's using enhanced screening programs to make sure only people who truly need the help are getting the special savings. The company is looking for more hosts. Find out more by visiting airbnb.com/dorianmainland