Community advocate and organizer Sheila Delaney knows we’re running out of time. Temperatures are dipping as the number of Minnesotans facing homelessness soars, a reality brought into sharp focus in a year of COVID-19 and social unrest. While permanent housing is the ultimate goal, Delaney joined others who came together this summer after the killing of George Floyd, continuing to collaborate on an innovative and affordable housing movement utilizing temporary shelter units as a first step. A model of that concept springs up before the end of this year in the North Loop of Minneapolis. Delaney takes us inside the effort, sharing why these tiny shelters are not just economical, but built on dignity.
Q: Catch us up on your progress!
A: The Indoor Villages concept is in great shape. Avivo, an experienced provider of support for people moving from unsheltered homelessness, addiction or mental health challenges toward stability, will open Avivo Village, North Loop, by the end of 2020. It will be Minneapolis’ first indoor tiny home community, built inside an empty warehouse and offering protection from the winter cold and the ability to social distance. Each shelter will be secured with locks, offering privacy, security and dignity.
Q: What materials will be used to build each unit?
A: Easily sanitized aluminum and composite materials. Our vendor is Pallet (palletshelter.com), a social purposes company most aligned with our values.
Q: How long can people stay?
A: Guests will be given 30-day, renewable stays in the community of 100 tiny houses of about 64-square-feet each.
Q: Will guests pay rent?
A: I believe that a majority of the guests in the Avivo Villages project will receive housing assistance.
Q: Are families welcome?
A: This project is designed for single adults. When we came together to create a solution this summer, we learned there was a real need for places for single adults. But Avivo Village is able to accommodate couples.
Q: What do you hope to learn during the two-year pilot?
A: We will be especially curious to see if this model of indoor, individual structures reduces the spread of COVID-19 as compared to other congregant shelter models. Additionally, we are focused on overcoming the barriers shared by people who have lived experience of unsheltered homelessness, including the perception of a lack of privacy, lack of security, the inability to bring beloved pets indoors and lack of respect for an individual’s unique needs and cultures. We are very hopeful that this model will overcome these barriers and be a desirable option for people who aren’t at ease in other shelter or transitional housing models.
Q: Will a manager live at the facility?
A: I understand that Avivo will have a very high staff-to-guest ratio and security to ensure safety and to create a welcoming, dignified environment for the guests.
Q: Where is support coming from?
A: Fundamentally, this project was created by grassroots community organizing. Simpson Housing provided much needed technical support and leadership. The Heading Home Hennepin Funders Collaborative supported a significant portion of predevelopment costs. Several private funders stepped up with funding to “encourage” governmental entities to contribute. Notably, tribal leadership, including the White Earth Nation, emphatically encouraged other jurisdictions, from the state to the park board, to do a better job of caring for our unsheltered relatives. The state, county and city all came forward with significant funding; Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey enacted an emergency order to make the Avivo Villages concept and several other winter shelter options possible. Finally, we are grateful to Avivo for believing in this vision and making it an even better reality.
Q: Dignity is key to your mission. Please say more about that.
A: We firmly believe that solutions to social problems work best when they come from the people most impacted by the challenge. “Nothing about us without us,” is a motto that we follow to the best of our ability. Our unsheltered neighbors have the same desires for and rights to dignity, community and safety as sheltered neighbors.
Q: What are factors that force so many people into homelessness?
A: On an individual basis, mental, physical, economic and chemical health challenges are frequently precursors to experiencing homelessness. However, generational trauma and continuing racial disparities are the underlying conditions that have made Black, Indigenous, and people of color so much more vulnerable than white people. In Minnesota, if you are white, you have a 1 in 1,250 chance of experiencing unsheltered homelessness. If you are African American, you have a 1 in 100 chance and if you are Indigenous, you have a 1 in 50 chance. We can and must do better.
Q: Are you anticipating any community pushback? If so, how might you address it?
A: We are so grateful that the North Loop Neighborhood Association is partnering with Avivo Village and others to create a Good Neighbor Agreement and working group. This will provide the framework to foster community and healthy relations between the project and the greater community.