The following is a guideline for institutions that provide services for relocated families. The guideline is organized according to the fields of services that are needed by the displaced families: basic needs, housing, jobs, health, educational services, case management, and funding. If you offer any of these services, consult the corresponding protocol for a potential plan of action.
The best course of action which has arisen from our research to provide all the necessary needs families and individuals require upon arriving in a new city after such a disaster is a “one-stop shop” where all resources are in one place and easy access to all is available.
If you are an institution that centers its aid on basic needs such as food/water, clothing, and language assistance, follow the protocol detailed below:
Displaced families were in a position where access to and funding for food was limited or not readily available. It is important to provide access to low cost/free food for those displaced by a natural disaster. Three of the displaced families we interviewed were provided Federal Aid through SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), however, the limitations that existed restricted the families from obtaining sufficient amounts of food to reach food security. Individuals reported that they had difficulties regarding acceptable forms of identification, but people from U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens and therefore, are eligible for services such as food stamps. ID’s from U.S. territories are valid forms of identification.
Prioritize offering prepared meals
Although food banks existed, due to the lack of access to adequate kitchen spaces, the families were unable to prepare hot meals. The food provided by food banks consisted of non-perishable food donations, the majority of which required kitchens/stoves, and hindered the ability to produce meals. Lydia Velez Herrera from Lilly Sin Barreras found success in preparing hot meals for the families and organizing community dinners. Lydia used her own personal kitchen as well as the cooking facilities in religious institutions to cater to the large number of displaced families staying in hotels that were in need of hot meals. If you have the ability, open your kitchen to cook meals for displaced families.
Displaced families were in a position where access to and funding for clothing was limited or not readily available. For example, the displaced families from Puerto Rico migrated from a warm climate to a cold climate and were not prepared for the drastic change in temperature. The CREC-led Welcome Center provided free climate appropriate clothing, and the families we interviewed took advantage of the free/low cost clothing options at The Salvation Army. The Hartford Public School Welcome Center assisted with uniforms for the students registering in the Hartford School System.
Organize a Clothing Drive
Educational and social institutions must make the effort to organize clothing drives which offer a range of diverse types of clothes as well as sizes. If you are able, donate extra clothes to local clothing drives or educational/social institutions in the area.
Assistance with the language Barrier
Displaced families transitioning to life in a new city may not speak English fluently. Language assistance is necessary to overcome the language barrier. The Hartford Public School System and the Hartford Public Library offer ESL classes to both students and adults trying to learn English. These classes were helpful, however the advertisement of the classes was inadequate and many were unaware of the services provided. Social institutions should offer access to free translators to further remove the language barrier.
Secure housing is essential to the survival and smooth transition of displaced families within their new city. It was clear through the interviews we conducted with the institutions as well as individuals who were displaced by the Hurricane that housing was one of largest issues that the families faced. The difficulty of finding emergency living spaces, finding affordable housing, and maintaining the long-term housing options that were found inflicted significant stress upon the displaced families. Lilly Sin Barreras and the CREC Welcome Center were two institutions that were named by the families when speaking of assistance they acquired regarding rent, deposits, and the actual search for housing; emergency, temporary, and long-term. Although the families found help in these two organizations, there was significant lack of communication among federal, state, and local agencies attempting to provide housing aid.
Free Temporary and Emergency Housing
When the displaced families we interviewed first arrived in Hartford, they had no where to go. There was an immediate need for temporary and emergency housing to provide shelter for the families while they searched for long-term solutions. We learned through our interviews that FEMA was able to organize emergency housing in the Red Roof Inn Hotel for a large number of displaced families. Churches, such as St. Patrick St. Anthony, also opened their doors to families in need of temporary housing. These options that were provided by FEMA and religious institutions were offered free of cost to the displaced families. Although the housing was free, the lack of stability, the miscommunication as to when the aid would end, and the less than desirable living conditions proved to generate stress and discomfort for the displaced families.
Ensure your free/low cost temporary housing options are known to the population in need
Make connections and relationships with local organizations that are directing refugees toward institutions that are designed to assist with life’s necessities. As an institution that provides housing assistance, use these connections to ensure your free/low cost temporary and emergency housing options are advertised to those who are looking. Although the options for temporary and emergency housing in Hartford were very limited, it was evident that the displaced families we spoke to did not even know where to look to find such services. By advertising the options your organization is able to offer and by building relationships with other social services that are providing aid to similar populations, the awareness of options will increase significantly.
Be explicit regarding what housing options your institution offers, and the length of time it will be provided
An experience that is necessary to highlight, and that was a theme throughout those families who were able to receive emergency housing assistance from FEMA at the Red Roof Inn, was that the duration of the aid from FEMA was not specified. The families were unsure each morning whether they were going to be forced to leave. However, after speaking with the institutions in Hartford, it became apparent that the Government was also was unsure about the length of time the aid would continue. The Connecticut Government was caught off guard by the large scale of migrants who came to the state and by their inability to find secure housing due to the varying restrictions they faced. FEMA funding for the Red Roof Inn was extended multiple times before it finally ended abruptly. In order to successfully offer temporary and emergency housing assistance, your organization must be clear and explicit regarding the details of the aid.
Be culturally responsive and empathetic
It is important to understand that the displaced families are experiencing severe trauma and culture shock as they are in a new and unfamiliar city. Therefore, they may ask your organization for assistance with other necessities in life outside of the housing aid that you are providing. Be prepared to direct the families to any known institutions that offer the desired services. With respect to housing, temporary housing can only last for so long. The displaced families need aid in locating the public and private institutions that will offer low cost long-term housing. Offering case management to help the displaced families transition from temporary housing into long-term housing will reduce the abandonment that the six families mentioned they experienced when forced to leave temporary housing and find something long-term.
Long Term Housing
Migration as a result of a natural disaster similar to Hurricane Maria causes many important documents to either be left behind or destroyed. Interviews with City Council members and CREC emphasized the barriers to obtaining long-term housing that are caused by this lack of documentation. Unknown credit history and job instability prevented public and private housing institutions from trusting timely payment of rent and deposits of the families. The representative from CREC mentioned that her institution had to go out of their way to vouch for individuals and personal y assure the institutions that payment would be consistent. Although the aid provided by CREC was extremely successful and useful, CREC was only able to assist a portion of those families searching for housing.
Understand that special accommodations will be necessary
Private and public organizations that offer long-term housing options must be aware that flexibility is necessary during a period of a state and global wide emergency. The displaced families needed housing, and due to the circumstances they faced such as their loss of documentation and their lack of financial stability, special accommodations will be necessary to ensure as many families as possible are assisted and protected. With regard to accommodations, we suggest flexibility with rent price and down payments and a willingness to work with case managers to solve issues of missing documentation and credit history. It is important to work closely with the displaced families’ designated case managers to be able to determine when this flexibility and the special accommodations may begin to decrease.
The government response to displaced families must be proactive rather than reactive. The government response after Hurricane Maria demonstrated the lack of preparedness the city retained for such a large scale of migration that resulted from a natural disaster.
Be prepared for future mass-migration
Establish a city-wide mandatory response that is to be implemented among paid public and private housing organizations to ensure that flexibility with housing policies and accommodations are granted to the displaced families seeking long-term housing arrangements. A mandatory response will prevent miscommunications and will regulate the conduct for special circumstances for populations such as those displaced after Hurricane Maria. Similarly, if the government were to set aside funds for the specific purpose of assisting these agencies financially so the mandatory special accommodations do not negatively affect their business is important. Increased funding to institutions that make an active effort to assist the displaced families is essential.
Communicate to ensure services are being provided sufficiently and efficiently
Communicate with the location from which the migration is coming from, Puerto Rico in this case, to ensure that those who were receiving Section 8 on the island will receive Section 8 in Hartford in a timely manner. One family stated that they were told they did not qualify for Section 8, despite meeting the proper requirements. A separate family experienced difficulties in obtaining their documents in Puerto Rico that proved they were receiving Section 8 accommodations on the island and were eligible in Hartford. This family went months with inadequate communication, until they were told they had two days to find an apartment for their assistance to be continued in Hartford.
Employment is essential to survival and to creating a sense of security and stability within one’s life. After Hurricane Maria, the displaced families who came to Hartford were looking for better living situations as well as better employment opportunities. Four of the six families who were interviewed stated that the majority of the job opportunities they knew of in the city were found through word of mouth within their communities. The majority of the families did not know where to go to access help in locating available job opportunities. Two institutions that were successful were Hamilton Connections and The Salvation Army, however these were the only two institutions that were mentioned regarding any form of employment assistance by the displaced families we interviewed. It was evident that there was a significant lack of awareness of which institutions in Hartford provided job placement aid.
Organize a Job Fair
Organize a job fair that highlights the different employment opportunities available in the city. Connect with local institutions to remain updated on which organizations are hiring so your institution is better able to place individuals seeking employment. At the job fair, include resume workshops and mock-interviewing to build the displaced individuals’ confidence and help them appeal to possible employers.
Commit to following through with displaced families after they are placed in a job
Five of the six interviews highlighted the fact that the jobs that were available to them were temporary. Therefore, it is important to follow up with the individual after they are placed in an employment opportunity to ensure they are stable and continue to remain employed. It is also important to be flexible in regard to a lack of documentation that the displaced people may have as a result of the destruction of the natural disaster. Your institution must be willing to work with the individual’s case management team to figure out a plan of action to resolve issues of missing documentation.
Displaced families often arrive in a new city due to a lack of resources and safety in their previous home that result from a natural disaster such as Hurricane Maria. This relocation on top of a loss of a prior home can cause significant trauma. From speaking with the displaced families, CREC, City Council, Catholic Charities, and Lydia, all organizations who worked personally and closely with all of the families, it was clear that the trauma that resulted from the migration to Hartford continues to play a large role in their lives today. The stress of the lack of financial security, housing instability, and the emotional distress of living in a new and unfamiliar city significantly affects the quality of life that the displaced families are experiencing in Hartford. Access to mental health assistance is unknown to the families as they are still struggling and have not been receiving help with their trauma.
Offer low cost mental heath aid
By offering low cost psych evaluations, individual therapy sessions, and accessible group meetings where the displaced families can share their experiences with others who have been through similar transitions will drastically improve the emotional toll that the migration to a new city will have. The unavailability of these services contributes to the continuation of the suffering that Puerto Ricans living in Hartford today are facing.
Be culturally responsive
Offer cultural centers and cultural safe spaces that allow displaced individuals to feel comfortable expressing their culture and livelihood. Be equipped with employees who speak languages other than English to further encourage the celebration of diversity and to assist in creating a setting in which displaced families can relax and where they don’t have to conform to societal pressures of their new city.
Displaced families often have children who are still striving to complete their education. As a result, educational services are needed to help facilitate the transition to the new educational systems the families find themselves confronting in the new city. Additionally, paperwork, transcripts, and IEP information may have been lost in the disaster.
School Registration Services
The education in Hartford which involves a lottery system for placement into the different types of schools that are located in the city is confusing and difficult to navigate even for an individual who has grown up in the city. For a family that just recently migrated to Hartford, the process of school enrollment for children in the city can be very overwhelming, especially if a language barrier is present. The Hartford Welcome Center of the Hartford Public School System found great success in opening their offices to individuals and families seeking assistance in understanding the registration system. Their staff, the majority of whom are proficient in the Spanish language, went further than school registration and became support systems for many of the families who used their services. The Hartford Public School Welcome Center highlighted their cooperation with the State Government to place the students from Puerto Rico under the McKinney Vento Act, an act aimed to protect students who are homeless. This specific action allowed for the displaced students to be enrolled in school with missing health documents, transcripts, and IEP information that were destroyed on the island in the disaster. Through the McKinney Vento Act, the displaced students were able to be enrolled and continue their education without repeatedly coming across institutional and governmental barriers. Through our interviews with the families, we found that this service was very helpful for those who knew about it. We recommend to increase the advertising strategies to ensure as many families in need of school registration services are informed of the great work this organization does within Hartford.
All six of the families we interviewed explained in great detail the issues that the language barrier caused for them in all aspects of life. Two families mentioned that the language barrier made finding employment especially difficult, while others emphasized the fact that confusion of the English language created greater difficulties when searching for any form of assistance in their situations. There are multiple organizations that assist individuals with learning the English language in Hartford. The two institutions that we found were the most accessible to the displaced families are The Hartford Public School Welcome Center, which offers ESL classes to students and adults, and the Hartford Public Library. The ESL classes offered by these two institutions help displaced families have a smoother transition to life into the many different components of life in Hartford.
Be accommodating and have various options available for students and family seeking English language assistance
It is important to offer ESL education to both students and adults, as the Welcome Center and the Public Library of Hartford did. This ensures that students will succeed in their education and their families will be better prepared to search for employment assistance when they need it, and to be able to function in their new city that speaks a different language. When offering these ESL classes, there must be a variety of options. The displaced families we interviewed tended to work jobs that have uncommon hours, and therefore the after school classes and extracurricular programs that help students and their families learn English need to be held at different times of the day and night to accommodate those who have difficult schedules.
The transition to life in a new city can be very stressful, confusing, and has the ability to negatively affect children if they do not have proper support systems. Mentorship programs that are implemented through the school have the ability to provide students with another level of support. Mentorship programs assign a younger student and an older student together, and they are designed to allow for the two students to bond and create a relationship that may not have formed outside of the program. For a displaced student who has come to a new city they are unfamiliar with, an older student to whom they can turn to for questions regarding homework, social life, and any other question they may come across can significantly decrease the trauma that a student experiences when they arrive in their new city.
Create a mentorship program that matches students of all ages
The mentorship program that is created does not have to exist exclusively in elementary, middle, or high schools. While these students will also benefit from a mentorship program, establishing relationships between high school and college students is an essential component to the mentorship program. A relationship between a college student and a younger student can help create a path toward college and will promote the educational success of the younger student.
In the wake of big transitions, cultural awareness should be an emphasis when providing aid. Displaced students are transitioning into a new city with a new language, unfamiliar people, and a different culture. In order to ensure students are comfortable and are able to transition into their new setting in an environment that respects their own culture is essential to a smooth transition into life in Hartford. A representative from the Hartford Public School System stressed the need for increased cultural training so school officials can be empathetic and know how to successfully assist their new students.
Organize cultural training within the school system
Staff must know how to address the cultural differences and diversity that they encounter when a mass migration occurs that brings a large amount of new students into a school system. A full understanding of cultural sensitivity is essential in case a future natural disaster causes mass migration as Hurricane Maria did.
Case management is a collaborative process of communicating, assessing, planning, coordinating, and evaluating the services that are needed by populations facing extreme difficulties. Case managers are needed to ensure the displaced families encounter a smoother transition into the city. In Hartford, after Hurricane Maria organizations such as 2-1-1, Catholic Charities, and The Salvation Army provided case management placement and case management services for those who migrated to Hartford and who were in desperate need of assistance. From our interviews with the displaced families, it became clear that some of these institutions were successful, while others were very ineffective in providing case management aid. The displaced families spoke of being ignored by their case managers and a lack of urgency on behalf of the agencies. There was such a vast number of displaced families who needed assistance from the institutions in Hartford that provide case management, and these institutions could not assist on such a large scale effectively. The families we interviewed were found through our community partner Lydia Velez Herrera, and therefore, Lydia often acted as a case manager for these individuals. When the institutions in Hartford were unable to help them, they turned to Lydia, and she tried her best to connect them to the services they required. An aspect of Lydia’s help that was the most successful, an idea that was highlighted by a representative from Catholic Charities as well, is the importance of a “warm hand-off.” The warm hand-off is a term to describe personally connecting someone with a service and following up with them after they are connected to that particular service to ensure that they were assisted and that they are no longer in need.
Build connections with organizations that provide social services
In order to provide successful case management, it is necessary to have relationships with the different organizations in Hartford that provide assistance with the needs of everyday life, such as employment searches and placement, housing assistance, financial aid, locating basic needs, registration in education, mental health services, and language barrier assistance. As an institution that provides case management, these connections are essential to ensure that the displaced families you are assisting are being connected with the proper agencies and organizations that have the ability to provide the correct services that are needed by the families.
Practice the warm-handoff
After the connection between a displaced individual and a service is made, your job as an institution that practices case management is not finished. It is your responsibility to follow up with the individual and make sure that they received the services they were promised. Too often after Hurricane Maria, the families we spoke to were directed to institutions that were supposed to help them in a certain aspects of life, but the aid was either insufficient or incomplete. However, after they were directed to this institution, there was rarely any follow up, and the displaced family found themselves in the same position they were in before seeking case management assistance. To prevent inadequate aid, practice the warm hand-off. Case management should not end until the individual is stable in all aspects of life and are comfortable with becoming more independent.
Funding is needed in order for institutions to provide the adequate resources for the transition of the displaced families. The local, state, and federal government are responsible for funding institutions in order to ensure they are able to provide successful and efficient aid to the displaced families. After Hurricane Maria, there was a strong effort by all levels of government to find money they could use to help the Puerto Ricans that arrived in the city. However, institutions, The Hartford Public School Welcome Center for example, received funds to assist victims of Hurricane Maria far too late. Additionally, through our interviews with institutions such as Catholic Charities, City Council members, and CREC, a significant problem with the funding that was provided to social service institutions in Hartford was that no body knew where the money was going, and how it was being used by the institutions.
Adequate Funds must be quickly dispersed
The money that was provided to institutions in Hartford was often distributed too late. The institutions were restricted in the extent of aid they were able to provide due to the lack of funding they received early on in the process. This is another example of the reactive vs. proactive response that occurred in Hartford after the mass migration of Puerto Ricans to the city. To be prepared for future mass migration that results from a natural disaster, it is necessary to have funds already set aside that are to be used to finance social service institutions. If a fund is created and protected in case of a future disaster, the fund will then be distributed in a timely manner and the response will be far more proactive than reactive.
Transparency in regard to allocation and use of the funds is essential
The lack of knowledge as to where the funding that was provided by the government went created significant amounts of tension between institutions and the public. The families we interviewed hinted at their distrust of social service institutions due to the fact that they were unaware of where the large amounts of money were being spent. Therefore, the government must require a public report from the institutions that are given funds that states the use of the funds and how much of the funds were used for that purpose. The government themselves must report which institutions are given funding so they public is able to hold the institutions accountable for the level of services they are to provide with that funding.
How to Advertise Your Services
Displaced families require straightforward , easy access to advertisements regarding the services they can benefit from in order to lessen stress and trauma. Many displaced families are not aware of the services available to them, and some do not have internet access.
In order to promote your services:
- Create either a poster, pamphlet, or brochure with detailed information regarding location, time and duration, and a brief explanation of the exact service being provided
- Distribute poster, pamphlet, or brochure in popular public spaces such as:
- Bus stops