Human Service Needs and Disaster Displacement

Human Service Needs and Disaster Displacement

OPRE Report #2023-011
Published: Jan 31, 2023
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Sam Vance

Cole Garvey

Carla Chavez

Brandon Hollie

Key Findings
  • Terms used to define disaster displacement vary, but common concepts include impacted and host communities, short-term and long-term displacement, and disaster recovery.
  • Disaster displacement in the United States is primarily caused by storms, flooding, and wildfires.
  • Disaster displacement is a complex process, and displaced people have varying experiences. Displacement typically occurs as a response to evacuation orders before a disaster incident or when damage caused by a disaster renders a family’s home or community unlivable. Research suggests that the people most vulnerable to disaster displacement are those who lack resources before the disaster incident, such as those experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and unemployment, and people from low-income communities and communities of color.
  • Human services for people displaced by disasters are often focused on housing and delivered by many agencies and organizations. Housing is the most immediate need. Other critical needs include income support, transportation, schools, child care, and jobs. Delivery of human services to people displaced by disasters largely relies on federal funding and involves state and local human services agencies, as well as nonprofit, community-based, and faith-based organizations.
  • Disasters and the resulting displacement negatively affect outcomes for individuals and communities. People displaced by disasters report higher levels of emotional stress and financial hardship in the months and years following the disaster.
  • Recommendations found in the literature include improving resiliency planning and developing a deeper understanding of the long-term needs of displaced people and the communities affected by disasters and investing more to meet those needs.
  • Significant gaps exist in the reviewed literature. Additional research on these gaps could help the field of human services better understand, plan for, and respond to disaster displacement.

Disaster displacement refers to the involuntary movement of residents from their homes and community because of an external phenomenon for a temporary, short-term, or long-term period. There are approximately 1 million new disaster displacements in the United States every year. After being displaced by a disaster, people often have critical human services needs in areas such as housing, income support, transportation, employment, and education. These needs can be acute for people with low incomes. A combination of federal, state, and local emergency management and human services agencies and nonprofit, community, and faith-based organizations work to address these needs. This report summarizes existing literature on disaster displacement and human services.

The Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in collaboration with ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, engaged Mathematica to review and summarize existing literature and available resources on disaster displacement and human services. The findings from this review can help human services agencies understand common key terms that describe disaster displacement, the relationship between disasters and displacement in the United States, how people and communities affected by disaster displacement access human services, and outcomes for affected people and communities. Additional research on the gaps in existing literature could help the field of human services better understand, plan for, and respond to disaster displacement.

Executive Summary

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