Boston Database Helps House Runners

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Patric Docmanov, 20, a student at the Berklee College of Music, offered up his bedroom in Boston’s Fenway to anyone displaced by the Marathon Bombings. Real estate developer Stewart Berg, 53, had been standing 50 feet away from the bombing and offered up his home on Chestnut Hill. Heather Carey, 27, who works in biotech offered her pullout couch (“super comfy”) in Allston.

In the wake of yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombings, the venerable city with its liberal-hearted traditions and spirit of openness, has harnessed the collective power of the internet to offer housing to those who were displaced, with much of the Back Bay cordoned off with crime scene tape.

Citizens filled out the public "need a place to stay" online form on Boston.com or added their contact info to a popular Google document to offer free accommodations. FEMA camps aren’t as necessary when neighbors can get by with a little help from their friends or perfect strangers. Call it the Airbnbification of altruism.

In fact—as in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last fall—Airbnb waived service fees for those affected by the Boston tragedy.

To boot, Joseph Porcelli, whose friends call him a “professional neighbor,” founded the non-profit NeighborsForNeighbors.org in 2004 and recently launched a new tool to help speed up the housing matching process for those displaced. For this new utility, NFN teamed up with SeeClickFix, a web platform that allows citizens to report broken sidewalks or non-working street-lamps. Elderly citizens, for example, can connect with neighbors to help them shovel snow out of their driveway after a blizzard. The combination of platforms can serve an even more vital need during times like yesterday’s events.

The NFN website has functioned as a neighborhood social network in partnership with the city of Boston and highlights the efficiency and cost-effective way community’s can come together in times of need.

“We do stuff with and for each other, based on skills or time that can help each other out,” Porcelli said. “We love our neighbors.”

Porcelli, who now lives in Washington, D.C., is the director of engagement services at Gov Delivery, where he uses his skills to helps government organizations reach and help the public. He also works on improving FEMA’s community platform to optimize response times and help those in need during a disaster.

“I want to bridge the gap between what citizens can do for each other and marrying that with what governments can do for national preparedness,” he said. “If we have relationships with our neighbors before an emergency, we can better function after.”

Kirsten Byrnes, a graduate student living in Allston, who offered an air mattress in her living room, believes the camaraderie seen over the internet is part of the city’s character.

“I decided to put my name and info out there because this is a great time of need for some people of Boston,” she said. “I have grown up here, been molded by Boston, it's who I am. When need comes calling, I like to answer. People need our help. What's a hot shower and use of my towel mean to me?”

 

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