Third Party Website Primer For Guests and Hosts
By John Thielking
This page provides a bit of a primer and introduction to the various third party web sites that allow people to sign up as a Guest and/or Host. There are three or more third party web sites not directly run by CouchHosting.org that I am directing people to use in place of CouchHosting.org hosting its own listings of Guests and Hosts. These web sites offer pre-existing sets of users and worldwide reach. You may choose to use just one or all three, possibly depending upon your preference for flexibility and the availability of various accountability features such as community feedback about users and even full on background checks.
It is better for me to use the third party sites instead of having CouchHosting.org create its own listings for a couple of reasons. First, there is the liability issue. If I were to create my own listings of Guests and Hosts, I could be held personally responsible for any activities that fall outside of the rather broad exemptions from liability contained in the US Federal Communications Decency Act. The exemptions have recently been narrowed so that sites that either deliberately or inadvertently end up hosting ads that later turn out to be related to sex trafficking can be shut down and their owners and operators prosecuted. Two well known web sites that were affected by this were Backpage.com and Craigslist.org. Backpage.com was completely shut down. Craigslist.org chose to eliminate their personals ads sections. Because I run a one person organization, I can’t possibly hope to keep track of which posts are legit and which aren’t if I were to set up some kind of free for all, worldwide self serve post creation system on CouchHosting.org. The second reason I’m doing it this way is that FreeWorlder.com, CouchSurfing.com and Airbnb.com already have their systems in place and they have good reputations and good track records, so there is really no need to reinvent the wheel, when perfectly functional round disks are already attached to vehicles which are already traveling the landscape.
There are three basic categories of these web sites: free for all, some community accountability and full on background checks available, listed below in order of increasing levels of accountability.
Www.FreeWorlder.com is a web site that allows users to exchange items and services amongst themselves for free. You can give or receive eggs, or flowers or scrap wood, etc, etc, all for free. The user interface has a worldwide map which can be set to zero in on your local community. There was an accommodation feature that was supposed to be added earlier in 2018, but that hasn’t happened yet, apparently. The site can still be used in its beta form to set up user profiles and adverts that either seek or offer free places to stay. You may disclose as much or as little information about yourself in your profile and your adverts as you wish. There is a communication system that allows users to finalize the details of the deals before confirming that they have accepted delivery. There is no system in place other than some community rating system to give feedback about experiences with other users or to perform a background check. You can of course use the communications system to verify identities and then do your own background checks before deciding to do business with that person who replied to your message or advert.
Www.Airbnb.com is a web site primarily intended for use by people who are traveling while on vacation, but I have used it to book stays of up to one month at a time for users who are not traveling. One unfortunate incident happened when I tried to do a third party booking for an unhoused woman. I didn’t think it was necessary or relevant to disclose that the woman, Judi B., was also a homeless CouchHosting.org client in addition to being one of my best personal friends, but she was evicted under the no third party bookings rule when the host found out that she was homeless. Just for the record though, it is a violation of Airbnb rules for the Host to discriminate against a Guest based on the background of the Guest.
Airbnb does offer some good deals that unhoused folks could at least in theory take advantage of. In the winter of 2017-18 I found that the site had listings for 87 spots in Eugene/Springfield, Oregon renting for under $35 per night. The one spot that Judi B got evicted from in November 2018 was offering to rent for a whole month for $639 total cost, after the 50% discount for booking a whole month at one time.
There are a number of tricks, gotchas and workarounds that I have encountered while using Airbnb. First, sometimes the login/verification code that is sent by SMS text to your cell phone when first creating your account sometimes just never arrives. I have found that Airbnb will accept, sometimes, my using my own cell phone number to receive the code. The only downside to this is that my cell phone then will be receiving the SMS texts sent to the person I’m helping instead of them receiving the texts directly. Also, now if I were to call Airbnb on the phone, there would be two accounts associated with my phone number and I have to verify which one I’m referring to when I call in.
If the person you are trying to sign up doesn’t have state issued photo ID, there are about 30% of airbnb listings that will accept a booking without state ID. If you want to still book a spot that requires ID but your guest doesn’t have ID, then you must be prepared to at least make it appear that you are actually staying with the guest for the whole time that the spot is booked for. Then what you do is something like what I did in the summer of 2018 where I booked three spots in a row over a period of 18 days for a total cost of $550, where each spot had at least two beds or two spots for sleeping in the room. Sometimes having an extra guest costs only $5 per night extra. Other times it costs nothing extra to have an extra guest. The way you sign up your guest who has no ID for that spot is that you sign up yourself as the primary guest with your ID, your cell phone number and your e-mail address and book one extra guest when you sign up. Then when they confirm the reservation and ask you who is coming, you give your name and your email and then you just give your Guest’s name and any second e-mail. It has never in my experience been a requirement for the 2nd Guest to complete any additional steps such as uploading an ID or even responding to the e-mail that Airbnb sends to them.
Another gotcha is that the app for Android phones is very buggy and did not cooperate at all when Judi tried to upload her ID on her own. If that happens, but you don’t want to do a third party booking using your PC which is already permanently logged in using Facebook cookies, then the best thing to do is to go to an Internet cafe such as Irdna’s in Eugene, near W 7th and Monroe. At the Internet cafe, you have to log into Airbnb each time since all cookies are erased at the end of each session. Then you can scan the ID using the scanner at the Internet cafe instead of using the buggy app.
There is also a back door to airbnb.com, where some nonprofits are booking refugees, disaster victims and medical stays for free. You can try using Google to find articles about how Airbnb is allegedly helping disaster victims from the CA wildfires for example and often those articles will reveal the name or names of the nonprofits, such as International Rescue Committee or Fisher House Foundation, who are doing the screening and signing people up for free spots. If you want to offer your services as a Host for one of these free spots, just sign up at www.airbnb.com/openhomes.
I haven’t looked in detail yet, but I do recall that other vacation rental sites besides airbnb pop up if you use the search term Home Hosting.
Finally, If you want a site that is dedicated to providing free spots for couch surfers and that offers enhanced security such as background checks for Guests and verified Hosts’ profiles, then head on over to www.couchsurfing.com. There is a $60 fee for doing a background check on yourself as a Guest, but after you pay that one time fee, you can make an unlimited number of booking requests, instead of being limited to making only 10 requests per week with a free, unverified account. Note that as of the last time I checked, although there are some 4000 Host profiles on this site, only 10 or fewer Hosts have logged in within the past three months. So in other words, there is tremendous potential for this site, if it ever got used very much.