BY CAM GORDON
The Minneapolis City Council has taken a step toward bringing a new tiny-home shelter housing project to the Southside.
On Sept. 21, they voted unanimously to provide $1 million as a match for state funds for a new Avivo Village South Project. The money would come from the city’s contingency funds and will only be used if the nonprofit, Avivo, is awarded funding from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to acquire, design, and construct and/or renovate such an emergency homeless shelter.
“This sets in motion the city’s commitment to the Avivo Village project and its expansion into south Minneapolis,” said Ward 8 council member and City Council President Andrea Jenkins just before the vote.
If successful, the project would be modeled after the Avivo Village shelter housing that has been operating for roughly two years in the North Loop neighborhood in a warehouse near Plymouth and Washington Avenues. There, Avivo has constructed 100 secure, private “tiny houses” with common areas, all within the larger building. In addition to the small homes, Avivo provides 24-hour security services, case managers and other services designed to help each person to improve their health and move into permanent housing.
According to its website, Avivo Village works to address the needs of individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness who have traditionally struggled to enter the shelter system. They provide wraparound services using culturally responsive approaches and harm reduction, Housing First, and trauma-informed strategies.
The plans are in the early stages with specifics about a timeline and location yet to be identified. “We do not have any other details to share on progress or timelines,” said Avivo’s Kim Sheagren. “We are really dependent on the amazing partnerships with the city, county, and state for a possible project like this and much is still out there yet to be decided.”
While still a long way from reality, the city funding and potential grant from the state have given new viability to the idea of a Southside facility that has been talked about more in recent months.
Ward 9 Council Member Jason Chavez and Ward 11 Council Member Emily Koski have been leading the effort in City Hall and both have identified it as a budget priority. Chavez has had conversations about it with the state, Hennepin County, the mayor, and other city staff for the past year.
“When Council Member Jason Chavez approached me about the state Department of Human Services’ grant funding, I jumped at the opportunity to partner with him and take the next step in securing funding for the predevelopment and development of the Avivo Village South project,” said Koski. “The original Avivo Village was made possible by an all-hands-on-deck effort by the state of Minnesota, Hennepin County, and the city of Minneapolis, and we’re going to need another all-hands-on-deck effort to make Avivo Village South possible. That is why we’re calling on the state of Minnesota and Hennepin County to meet our match.”
Support for a Southside Avivo village was evident at a recent Ward 12 candidate forum.
“We need an Avivo village on the Southside,” said Luther Ranheim at the forum, with agreement from both Aurin Chowdhury and Nancy Ford, who are all running for the Ward 12 seat currently held by Andrew Johnson, who is not seeking reelection.
“I have spent the last year and half working with Council Member Chavez in his office to build support for this model and help to leverage a funding path for an Avivo Village 2.0 on the Southside,” said Chowdhury when asked about it later.
“The tiny home model provides an opportunity to get folks back on a stable path,” said Ford. “It provides an opportunity to get the residents signed up for vital services, connect on a deeper level with case workers, and make connections with their tiny-home neighbors.”
“Much of the homelessness in Minneapolis is concentrated on the Southside and along the Hiawatha corridor, running through Ward 12,” said Ranheim. “We should address the homelessness crisis here in South Minneapolis by providing shelter beds through rooms for individuals or families, like Avivo Village in the North Loop.”
“These are the types of investments we need to reduce homelessness in the city of Minneapolis—not inhumane, undignified surprise encampment sweeps that cause further harm,” said Chowdhury.
“A Southside Avivo Village is desperately needed to begin addressing the serious unsheltered homelessness needs that our community has,” agreed Ward 8 City Council candidate Soren Stevenson. “This investment should be followed up with a break from our current ineffective, cruel, and expensive policy of pushing people who are sleeping on the streets around the city and throwing their belongings away. Instead, we need to enact a comprehensive Housing First policy to prioritize housing people in need.”
While generally considered to be successful, Avivo’s facility in the North Loop has not been without concerns. In 2022, WCCO ran a story where one former resident expressed feeling unsafe at the center where, he said, drug use was common. The village has been the source of frequent 911 calls, many for overdoses.
It has been helpful that the establishment of the shelter had neighborhood association support and that it is set apart from residential areas, close to transit and on a busy corridor.
The North Loop Neighborhood Association crafted a Good Neighbor Agreement with Avivo Village that also has been helpful. Its goals are to help all residents feel safe and secure, maintain open and transparent communications to respond if concerns arise, develop clear procedures for resolving problems, foster positive relationships, and reduce livability concerns and the fear of livability concerns in the neighborhood.
When and if the Southside tiny-home shelter project gets closer to reality, the lessons learned in the North Loop will be a place to turn for guidance.
“I would look at the existing facility that is managed by Avivo for answers,” said Ford. “Good management is the key to a successful community that has a healthy relationship with the surrounding community.”
“We have the power and resources to address this problem; what we are lacking is the political will on the part of city leadership to tackle the problem comprehensively,” said Stevenson.
“There is not a day that goes by that any one of us does not think about the individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness throughout the city of Minneapolis,” said Koski. “Our emergency rooms have become an extension of our shelter system. That is not what our emergency rooms were designed to be. Avivo Village is an innovative approach to addressing the crisis. This funding is us saying we’re going to do everything we can both in the short term and long term to address the crisis.”