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San Diego teen helps create website to find housing for Ukrainian refugees

San Diego teen helps create website to find housing for Ukrainian refugees
Posted at 3:45 PM, Mar 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-08 19:16:25-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A San Diego teen has created a website that’s matching Ukrainian refugees with hosts providing housing.

Four days after the Russian invasion, Avi Schiffmann, 19, joined a friend at a Balboa Park rally in support of Ukraine.

“It was scary, to be honest. All these people, they all have family there. I don't have family in Ukraine, but I do have family in countries around Ukraine,” he said.

Inspired to help, Schiffman turned to what he excels at: coding.

In 2020, he started a COVID-19 tracking website that's been visited by millions.

Last year, the freshman at Harvard took a year off from school to work on internet startups and ended up in San Diego.

Here, in a span of two days, with the help of a friend at Harvard, Marco Burstein, went up.

“I can make a direct, useful, practical tool,” Schiffmann said.

The site acts like a public message board, where hosts around the world can list rooms available for Ukrainian refugees.

"It really puts the power back into the hands of the refugee, where they’re able to take the initiative and search for their current city and see the listings, rather than waiting for some NGO or some organization to very slowly, manually match them,” he said.

The site allows refugees specific searches, depending on their needs.

“So if you really need child care support. Or your need elderly assistance or you have five people with you and you require to have pets, you can put all these kinds of filters into the search,” Schiffmann said.

So far, several thousand hosts have listed open rooms.

“The amount of listings that are available on the website is doubling every 12 hours," he said. "It's awesome."

Because the host and refugees make their own matches, off the website, he's not sure how many there have been. He says judging on the number of thank you emails, it's been several dozen so far, and counting.

“They just feel safe and able to get sanctuary. It’s incredible,” Schiffmann said.

He has been working with translators for more than a dozen languages so that refugees can view the listings in their own language.