Anticipated Vulnerabilities: Displacement and Migration in the Age of Climate Change

Executive Summary

In 2017, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs unveiled the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, in an effort to move forward the Commonwealth’s initiative to assist its municipalities in their efforts to assess, anticipate and plan for hazards associated with changes in climate and their vulnerability to those hazards. The City of Holyoke, MA successfully applied for a grant from the MVP program to assess the city’s capability to respond to an influx of migrants driven by a climate change event. This project sought to address the city’s concerns through a multipronged analysis of the experience of the post-hurricane Maria displacement/migration of Puerto Ricans to the City of Holyoke. Below are some of the key findings and recommendations contained in the study.


The majority of displaced Puerto Ricans arriving to the City of Holyoke relied on kin networks, that is family and friends who provided support in addressing their needs. Given the socio-economic standing of Puerto Ricans residing in Holyoke, we conclude that working-class and Puerto Ricans living in or near poverty assumed a disproportionate burden in support of displaced Puerto Ricans migrating to the city of Holyoke. Communal solidarity and standing issue-based coalitions were a key dimensions of the positive responses to the disaster in Puerto Rico and in the City of Holyoke. A sense of solidarity among Puerto Ricans is a resource for future responses to a crisis. A sense of commitment also exists among the not-for-profit organizations and other civic sector associations provides a similar resource. However, these sources of capital may be of limited duration, and dependent on the existing stock of material resources. Displaced Puerto Ricans residing in the Holyoke and in Western Massachusetts view the City of Holyoke as a resource. Access to affordable housing became the key to stabilizing displaced Puerto Ricans. Displaced Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly indicated that Holyoke’s Family Resource Center—Enlace de Familias—provided the most effective support to their address their needs. Central to the success of the response to the sudden and large arrival of persons displaced by Hurricane Maria was the creation of a central hub or resource center that provided access to various federal, state and local agencies and resources for an extended period of time. This “one-stop-shopping” approach was effective and efficient. Regular meetings (i.e., conference calls) among responding entities to share information, coordinate response and request resources were also seen as instrumental in facilitating the delivery of services under circumstances of great uncertainty and limited surplus of resources. 3Central to the success of the response to the post-Maria migration of Puerto Ricans to the City of Holyoke was the solidarity, collaboration and synergy of culturally-competent civic leaders and leaders of agencies who were committed to offering a collective response. Extant patterns of cooperation, coordination and communication paved the way for a focused response once the arrival of displaced persons reached unmanageable proportions for any single entity. Insufficient resources before and during the response to the arrival of displaced persons hampered the effective response and assistance of entities recruited or volunteered to provide assistance. T he City of Holyoke lacks the necessary financial resources to respond to the needs of a large influx of migrants who may arrive as a result of a climate-driven event.


1. Create a “one-stop-shop” location, with well-publicized and ongoing availability for a determined period of time, is a central feature of any successful response to address large migrations caused by a climate change displacement. This location should provide access to the key federal, state, and local agencies as well as to local civic organizations that will enable migrants to incorporate or join the community;

2. Local city officials and civic leaders charged with responding to the influx of migrants should have clear and unconstrained access to information and relevant data about the needs of displaced or arriving migrants;

3. Federal and inter-agency agreements provide key resources to address the challenges posed by displaced migrants arriving to any community;

4. More attention needs to be paid to the ability and flexibility of social services agencies response to an influx of new residents and arrivals;

5. The creation of a fungible and shareable form and case management follow up services that may allow a coordinating governmental entity the ability to track case management across several service agencies and services rendered.

Download Report