Apart from the thousands of injured and more than 130 dead after Tuesday’s massive explosions at the Port of Beirut, hundreds of thousands are left without homes when many were already struggling to pay the rent.
Tuesday night, many residents in the hard-hit areas near the port could be seen wandering through glass-riddled streets lugging suitcases, some carrying household pets.
Beirut’s governor, Marwan Abboud, said Wednesday that as many as 300,000 people had lost their homes in the blast.
In response to the wave of displacement, hundreds of other Lebanese stepped forward, offering spare rooms, empty summer houses, and even hotel rooms free of charge.
Many of those transactions were settled informally between friends, but some well-wishers have set about creating platforms on social media for people to offer and request housing.
Nancy Chmayssem, who lives in Tripoli, far from the blast site, said the news of the explosion reminded her and her family of the bombings that had taken place during a period of unrest in their city a few years ago, and they felt compelled to help.
The family opened their home to friends from Beirut who needed a place to stay. Then Chmayssem created an Instagram page, Open Houses Lebanon, to compile posts from do-gooders offering places to stay with locations and phone numbers. The page has drawn a massive response from locations throughout Lebanon.
“There are three apartments available in Bekaa for anyone who needs them,” she told Al Arabiya English. “My house is open to anyone who needs a place to stay. Please spread the message.”
Alaa Hijab, who lives in Beirut’s southern suburbs, had a similar idea. Like Chmayssem, her own home was not damaged, but she had been watching the news of houses and apartments destroyed. She saw large numbers of people posting individual offers to help on social media but thought that a more centralized forum would be easier for people in need to navigate.
So she created an Instagram page, Shelter for Your Help, and began compiling the posts she had found as well as others that people sent to her. People began to contact her looking for houses in particular locations – one reached out today looking for a place in Koura – and she began posting those calls, hoping to match them with people willing to offer their homes.
“I’ve never seen an incident that happened in Lebanon where the Lebanese people have not been helping each other – offering food, offering apartments, their own houses. This is one thing that is very special about the Lebanese people,” she told Al Arabiya English.
Part of the reason for that spirit of mutual aid, she said, stems from lack of faith in the government’s will – or ability – to help.
“I don’t think the government is even able to help any of these people with money, food, shelter -- I don’t think that they are capable of doing this,” she said.
The housing crisis predated the port explosion. It is not only those displaced by the blast coming in search of housing, Chmayssem said, but also those rendered homeless by economic circumstances.
“There are even people contacting us who are thinking we are offering houses -- not just people who lost their homes in the explosion but people who need houses for reasons unrelated to the explosion,” she said. “There are people who don’t have a place to live and are asking us to give them a place to stay.”
Chmayssem said the idea was simple.
“We are all in Lebanon one family and one hand, and alone we may not be able to do anything, but together we can make a difference,” she said.