As catastrophic bushfires continue to burn, people around the nation are rallying to help those affected.
Since the fires started in September, 25 lives have been lost, more than 1700 homes destroyed, and thousands of people and pets displaced.
Many people have taken to Twitter to express grief and anger, and while it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the tragedy, writer Erin Riley saw a way to harness the power of the internet for good.
On New Year’s Eve she co-founded Find A Bed – a simple yet effective website that helps match those affected by bushfires with members of the public offering accommodation, somewhere for pets to stay, or simply a place to recharge.
Within a week of its launch, Find A Bed had accrued 7000 listings and housed around 100 people.
“Everything from long-term accommodation for people who have lost their homes to people just needing a shower,” Ms Riley said.
It’s just been remarkable.”
The idea for Find A Bed came after Ms Riley witnessed the devastation wrought by the Green Wattle Creek fire near her home south-west of Sydney.
“We haven’t been directly affected but a lot of our community was,” she said.
Ms Riley turned to Twitter to offer some spare paddock space on her property to anyone trying to find refuge for their animals.
“The response was overwhelming. There were people retweeting it saying ‘We’ve got places as well’,” she said.
It’s going to take more than a bit of rain to get through this. We’ll be here as long as needed. If you’ve got a place to offer, or you need a place to stay, let us help: https://t.co/mOESa0drp3 #NSWFires #VicFires #AustraliaBurns pic.twitter.com/YnRfCMjm0s
— Find A Bed (@findabedAU) January 7, 2020
Find A Bed “cost nothing to get up and running”, but donors have since chipped in to help purchase a URL and set up a phone line.
Around 40 volunteers are now fielding online enquiries and phone calls, helping to match bushfire victims with registered hosts that best accommodate their needs.
A number of factors can make it difficult for bushfire victims to find accommodation, Ms Riley said.
“A lot of people with pets can’t go to a hotel, there are people who can’t afford the available options, and those with specific needs,” she said.
We ask about pets, and if people need an accessible home.”
One of the site’s success stories is that of a bushfire victim whose home was destroyed and who was struggling to find nearby accommodation.
“One of our hosts had offered their holiday house in the next suburb – which was fortunately still standing – and has offered it long term. That was just remarkably generous,” Ms Riley said.
For those feeling unsure about how to respond to the bushfires, Ms Riley believes “the best thing you can do is look for a need that no one else has met and respond”.
Find a thing you can do and meet a need that’s there,” she said.
“It might not be the most exciting or glamorous thing. Sometimes it’s just listening to someone and having a cup of tea.”
People are “yearning for a community at the moment and looking to feel connected”, Ms Riley said.
The more people that can build a sense of community the better.”
Members of the public with accommodation to offer can register at findabed.info or call (02) 7202 6588
Need a place to stay because of the #AustralianFires? Don’t have anywhere to keep your pet? Have a bed to offer? Let us know and we’ll do our best to connect you with someone that could use your help, or help you out. #NSWFires #VicFires #SouthCoastFires pic.twitter.com/Ru3PbXJ8wD
— Find A Bed (@findabedAU) January 3, 2020