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Californians Jump At Chance To Host Refugees Via Airbnb

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Over 450 Californians have signed up to host refugee and evacuee families in their homes via Airbnb.

Last week, San Francisco-based Airbnb launched its pilot program Open Homes, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee and over 2,000 Airbnb users across the United States have signed on to host refugees and evacuees, for free.

Airbnb will also not be collecting fees on these bookings.

Airbnb press secretary Mattie Zazueta told CBS San Francisco that almost a quarter of the homes offered up so far under the pilot program are located in California.

In pricey San Francisco, already over 75 hosts are offering up their digs as temporary housing for refugees coming to the United States.

Airbnb says it has made becoming a volunteer host easy, requiring just a few clicks of a button. Hosts can choose as few, or as many, days that they are able to host a family or individual.

It comes as no surprise that Californians are jumping at the chance to help out. Last year, California resettled more refugees than any other U.S. state, according to data from the U.S. Department of State.

Following executive orders by President Donald Trump attempting to block immigrants -- including refugees -- from certain countries from entering the United States, Californians held numerous protests and even offered up free legal support to immigrants impacted by the travel bans.

California lawmakers have been outspoken critics of the Trump's attempts to block refugees approved to come to the United States.

While Trump's executive orders haven't held up in court, the number of refugees arriving in the country has significantly declined in recent months as a result of the president's blocked orders.

The International Rescue Committee weighed in on the recent backlash against refugees, saying that "some elected officials in the U.S. — including President Donald Trump — have promoted harmful policies based on misinformation and misconceptions about refugees and how resettlement really works."

The IRC maintains that resettled refugees are "the world's most vetted population" and "are subject to the highest level of security checks" involving the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Defense Department, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security, among other agencies.

The IRC states that one of the most common myths they've been hearing is that refugees are terrorists.

The reality, IRC officials say, is that many refugees are actually fleeing terror groups such as ISIS, Al-Shabab and Boko Haram.

When the program launched last week, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia said, "It's easy to feel powerless when you think about massive global challenges such as the refugee crisis, but there are things everyone can do that make a big difference. The simple act of opening your home for a few nights can be life-changing for people who who've had to leave everything behind."

The program builds on Airbnb's goal of providing 100,000 people in need with short-term housing over the next five years.

In addition to the International Rescue Committee, other relief organizations that have been given access to Airbnb's tool to connect refugees with hosts including SINGA Quebec, Inland Refugee Society of British Columbia, Kinbrace, Singa France, Refugiés Bienvenue, Elan Samusocial and SolidarityNow.

David Miliband, IRC's president and CEO said that while the program will help cut the time and expense associated with housing refugees, it will also provide some critical, non-monetary benefits.

"Perhaps just as important, this sort of home sharing allows people to make real connections and to build lasting relationships," Miliband said.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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