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It’s no secret that the wind comes sweeping down the plains of Oklahoma, yet the state in tornado alley fails to provide public tornado shelters for its vulnerable residents.
For Robert Washington, it’s a fact that became all too real for he and his family in 2015, when a brush with a tornado in Oklahoma City changed the future of his life.
Staying in a two-story apartment building in OKC, Washington said he came face to face with his mortality while “holding my daughter. She was just born, like 6 months old,” Washington told The Black Wall Street Times on Thursday.
It was then that the idea for Shelter Share first crept into his mind. By 2022, thanks to a funding program from Builders and Backers, it became a reality. Downloadable on both IOS and Android, the app connects users with nearby shelter locations that offer shelter during natural disasters.
They include community shelters, public buildings and other locations. People who seek shelter and those who seek to provide shelter are able to register and create their own accounts.
Shelter Share can save lives through public shelters
Born and raised in Oklahoma, Shelter Share CEO Robert Washington never could understand why a state prone for frequent tornados didn’t already provide a system of public shelters. As a former inner-city renter with no option but to shelter in place, Washington said he created the app to give other people–especially from marginalized communities–the opportunity to protect their families.
People seeking shelter he calls “shelter seekers.” Those willing to open their doors he calls “shelter sharers.”
“You can make a 24 hour reservation in advance,” Washington told The Black Wall Street Times. The Oklahoma native said the app allows for people to select slots that let them know if a location has available space.
Between 2012 and 2022, over 50 Oklahomans lost their lives due to a tornado, according to an analysis from the Oklahoman that used data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
For Washington, what launched with just 75 users has exploded as more people learn about it.
“I’m hoping it inspires people to be more weather aware and prepared. There are people out there that are getting injured,” Washington said.
Moving forward, Washington plans to expand the app with more features and upgrades that offer an experience similar to airbnb for both humans and their pets.