Y Couchinator

by Alicorn4 min read18th Aug 201832 comments



Crossposted to Tumblr.

There are a lot of people - there are probably incredibly tragic mountains of people - who just need one or three or six no-pressure months on someone's couch, and meals during that time, and then they'd be okay.  They'd spend this time catching up on their bureaucracy or recovering from abuse or getting training in a field they want to go into or all three.  And then they'd be fine.

There are empty couches, whose owners throw away leftovers they didn't get around to eating every week, who aren't too introverted to have a roommate or too busy to help someone figure out their local subway system.

And while sometimes by serendipity these people manage to find each other and make a leap of trust and engage in couch commensalism a lot of the time they just don't.  Because six months is a long time, a huge commitment for someone you haven't vetted, and a week wouldn't be enough to be worth the plane ticket, not enough to make a difference.

I think there might be a lot of gains to be had from disentangling the vetting and the hosting.  People are comfortable with different levels of vetting, ranging from "they talked to me enough that it'd be an unusually high-effort scam" through "must be at least a friend of a friend of a friend" through "I have to have known them in person for months".  And you can bootstrap through these.

Here's a toy example:

  • Joe barely makes ends meet somewhere out in flyover country but in between shifts at his retail job he's doing well at self-teaching programming and seems like he could pass App Academy.
  • Norm has a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco and doesn't really need his couch to be empty, nor does he need to rent it out for money to someone desperate enough to pay rent on a couch, but he's not ready to give some dude on the internet a commitment to providing shelter for the duration of App Academy.
  • Tasha has a house somewhere in visiting distance of Norm, maybe even several different people like Norm, and she too has a couch, and is willing to host an internet dude for one week based on a sad blog post.  During this week, Joe and Norm meet, and Tasha evaluates Joe's suitability as a guest, and Norm decides he can commit to have Joe as an occupant for the duration of App Academy.

My household has been informally couching (or bedrooming, as the case may be) itinerants for a while.  Sometimes they get jobs and move out, or get jobs and don't move out.  Sometimes they find other households they fit into better and move into those.  Sometimes they wind up staying for a while and not really improving their prospects and going back whence they came; this is just the sort of thing that happens sometimes.

And I think more people could accommodate this fine from the hosting end, and just don't have the networking to find would-be couch occupants on a routine basis.

I propose a minimum viable product, low tech, Y Couchinator, to gauge demand and work out kinks before I try to make a technical person build me a website and expose us to liability and all that exciting stuff.  Here's how I'm imagining it will work.

  • If you have a couch, you tell me about your couch.  Is it available for a specific week in June for people you talk to for two hours first and like a lot?  Is it available for one month to nonsmoking vegetarian afabs who your landlord might believe are your cousin?  Is it available to anybody for any portion of the academic summer as long as they can walk your dog and don't seem inordinately sketchy to me when I hear about them?  Is it available for six months if they can cover groceries and get a reference from somebody who has hosted them for at least a fortnight?  Please be prepared to really maintain these boundaries when you need them even once you are presented with an actual couch occupant who has a sob story, even if it's a really sobsome story.  We've never had a serious problem with this, but it's the sort of thing that could happen. (Of course, distinguish "not enforcing a boundary" from "liked person more than expected, happy to keep them longer than I committed to based on less information".)
  • If you need a couch, you tell me about your couch needs.  Does it have to actually be a bed, not a couch?  Do you need to bring your gerbil?  Are you deathly allergic to peanuts/children/cats/country music/Brutalist architecture?  And you tell me about your plans for your couch time.  This is a somewhat constrained offer, so there do have to be plans.  I want to match people whose couch needs are plausibly likely to be self-limiting and don't come with a need for cash in particular, at least unless I find that there are many more couches than occupants under this condition.  Do you have a prospect for getting some kind of job as long as you can park in the right city for a while to attend interviews?  Do you have a plan for some kind of job training, like the example of App Academy or something less classic?  Are you pretty employable already but only when you have your mental health under control, and just need some time not relying on your parents for survival in order to get there?
  • I collect couch needers and couch havers.  I match people who can be straightforwardly matched, and I do my best to line up dominoes when several couches have to be strung together ("Bill, you can stay with Haley for a week, and she'll introduce you to Penelope, and if Penelope likes you you can stay with her for three months, and if Penelope doesn't feel comfortable with that then Wilbur is willing to subsidize you in REACH for a week and a half until Leroy's place opens up, which is yours for two months as long as you do dishes and sometimes give him rides to the airport").

I want to emphasize here that there do exist people who have couches they would be willing to offer.  This came up in a Discord chat and two people I didn't even know about before mentioned that under certain constraints they could offer couches.  My own household (which currently contains three different people who have at different times lived with us, paid no rent, and stayed on to the present day, and that's if you don't count my toddler) can fit people short-term, medium if we really click.

How to get ahold of me:  You can put out initial feelers via Tumblr ask (I will assume this post is not getting enough circulation until at least 3 depressed anons have wondered at me whether they really deserve couches) but it is a bad way to do anything long form.  My email address is alicorn at elcenia (dot com).  If you share any Discord servers with me, Discord works great too.