Martha’s Vineyard Could House Six Million Refugees

A handful of migrants from Venezuela wait outside of St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Martha’s Vineyard on September 15, 2022. (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

John Carney – 15 Sep 2022 –

What’s the carrying capacity of Martha’s Vineyard?

We found ourselves asking this question on Thursday when the island off Cape Cod announced that it was experiencing a “humanitarian crisis” after 50 people arrived there seeking shelter. These were reportedly migrants, some of whom may be refugees from Venezuela’s communist dictatorship, who had reportedly been flown up to Martha’s Vineyard on a plane sent to pick them up from Texas by Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis.

The island’s officials announced that its residents, towns, and “community-based, non-profit” groups had sprung into action to provide food, shelter, health care, and other amenities to the new arrivals. They noted that two “emergency shelters” had been established “in case further arrivals occur.”

To our Island community, here is an update on current humanitarian crisis on Martha’s Vineyard….we thank people for their continued help.

— Visit Martha’s Vineyard (@VisitMV) September 15, 2022

So how much capacity does Martha’s Vineyard have to shelter refugees? Census data reports that there are around 17,000 year-long residents and around 14,600 homes on the island. Let’s estimate that each home has four bedrooms and each bedroom can comfortably sleep three people. This would bring the island’s sleep capacity up to 175,200 beds, and 158,200 would be unoccupied.

If anything, this likely underestimates the sleeping capacity of the island. During the summer months, the island is said to regularly house 200,000 people at a time. If you really packed people in, allowing for sleeping in living rooms and libraries and dining rooms and studies, you could easily house a 400,000.

President Barack Obama, his daughter Malia, right, and first lady Michelle Obama, left, ride their bikes in West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard, on Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Volunteers mingle outside of St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Martha’s Vineyard to assist a group of migrants from Venezuela on September 15, 2022. (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A group of migrants from Venezuela wait on a sidewalk in front of St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Martha’s Vineyard on September 15, 2022. (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Of course, there’s a lot of available land in Martha’s Vineyard that could be converted into housing for refugees. With the current population, there are about 194 people per square mile. That is around the population density of Indiana, Georgia, or North Carolina. If we were to raise the density to that of Washington, DC, which has 11,295 people per square mile, we could fit nearly a million newcomers. That would still leave plenty of room on the island. Manhattan has 69,648 people per square mile. By our calculations, that leaves Martha’s Vineyard with room for six million refugees.

Barack Obama, who owns a 29-acre estate with seven bedrooms and 8.5 bathrooms on Martha’s Vineyard, could not be reached for comment. His house features a private beach that could become the official welcome point for ferries bringing in the new arrivals. Perhaps the former president could even be persuaded to greet the folks disembarking with an an “aloha” and a lei, in the tradition of his native state.

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