This Startup Helps Weather Disaster Evacuees Find Temporary Shelter

Hurricane season 2017 was a busy one — storms Harvey and Irma brought destructive winds and millions of evacuees. At one point during Hurricane Irma’s Florida evacuation, nearly 7 million were ordered to leave their homes to seek safety and shelter away from the storm.

“I was watching the news and seeing millions of people looking for places to stay, with hotels charging over $500 a night and people sleeping in gas station parking lots,” says Adam Huminsky.

“I was looking for a way to reach people that needed a place to stay since I have an extra bedroom and a couple of pull-out sofas at my house. However, there wasn’t a good, efficient way to do that aside from answering Craigslist ads and finding strangers on Facebook.”

After hearing feedback from disaster volunteers when Huminsky traveled to New Orleans to help with cleanup, he tapped Brian Hilinski to put their helplessness feelings into action, co-founding Charlotte, NC-based startup Harmany.

The app takes advantage of the popularity of the sharing economy by safely matching evacuees with pre-vetted hosts for up to a week. Evacuees and hosts create profiles and are subsequently matched based on their needs, location and housing offerings. By getting evacuees quickly off the roads, government officials can then more efficiently conduct clean up and reduce surges on food and gas.

Hosts’ profiles will include details on the accommodations (privacy, whether children and pets are allowed, parking availability, etc.) and have the option to deactivate the profile whenever necessary. Guests are able to fill out their own profiles with their housing needs and see what’s available at the moment as they drive out of the evacuation zone. Both profiles request users to upload their government ID and images.

Harmany’s security features include telephone and email verification and payment verification upon submission of a fully-refundable $100 deposit once the host and evacuee have been matched. The next iteration will include an instant background check API to further secure the transaction.

The app is even accessible for Spanish speakers with a bilingual option.

The team sees established companies like airbnb and VRBO, who often offer free stays during disaster evacuations, as a complement to their business.

“Any problem has multiple solutions to it and not one solution is the home run hitter for all scenarios,” says Huminsky. “Back in September, we talked to close friends and family about their experiences with home sharing services and they saw this as a different scenario since we’re not asking someone to join a network. We see it as a complementary part of a resilience plan and people should be aware of all options during those times. We would like to be part of their plan.”

Currently, Harmany is in talks with several government agencies to implement the app nationwide following a presentation at the National Tropical Weather conference this year. The app, which operates on a freemium model and is still testing revenue streams, is launching its beta phase on June 1; the team is crowdfunding $20,000 right now on Indiegogo to fuel customer acquisition and marketing ahead of the 2018 hurricane season.