San Diego Teen Develops Website to Help Ukrainian Refugees Find Shelter

A San Diego teen developed a website that helps Ukrainian refugees find shelter around the world

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

It was following a pro-Ukraine protest at Balboa Park in February that Avi Schiffmann couldn’t shake the thought that he needed to do something to help.

“I know how to make all these websites and apps and, you know, I felt that nobody was going to do it,” said Schiffmann, a San Diego resident. “So why don't I just do it? So, I made this website.”

Schiffmann, 19, is a Harvard University student who excels at coding. Two years ago, he developed a website to help track the spread of the coronavirus. So he didn’t think twice before using his skills to help this time.

“That night, I started working on designing the user interface and the basic site structure, went to sleep, woke up in the morning, and called my friend Marco from college, who's an amazing web developer,” said Schiffmann. 

The pair worked almost non-stop to create a website that would be easy enough to navigate for people offering help and those seeking it.

Then on March 3, just four days after, they launched Ukraine Take Shelter. The website is in 12 languages and it is a place where Ukrainian refugees can find hosts with spare rooms. 

“It's like a public bulletin that you can bring with you no matter where you are," said Schiffmann. 

On the website, refugees type in their current locations, and dozens of host offers pop up. The listings include the language spoken by the host, information about the space available, and whether pets are allowed.

In its first week more than 5,000 potential hosts from around the world, including San Diego, have offered a place to stay.

“When I saw that there was a site connecting people around the world, with the ability to host and people that need a space to stay that is safe, you know, temporarily, I was really impressed with that,” said Janene Simon, a San Diego host on the site.

Simon has family in Ukraine. For her, listing their home was just another way she could help her people.

“We're really thankful for the real volunteers or the people hosting their homes for all these refugees,” said Schiffmann. “We've heard incredible stories.”

What started as a simple idea, now helping many find a safe place to stay across the world.

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