Y Couchinator

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.