ST. CLOUD — After years of complaints from residents and business owners over government inaction on addressing homelessness, a new shelter with more than 50 individual tiny homes could open here next year. But first, city leaders must allow a nonprofit to build on city-owned land.

Avivo, a nonprofit working to address economic insecurity, homelessness and unemployment in the state, cleared the first hurdle Wednesday at St. Cloud's planning commission meeting, where members on a split vote recommended the City Council approve a long-term lease with the group.

Plans call for a roughly $9 million facility, much of which likely would be funded through a state grant, to be built on a 1-acre parcel of land on the city's west side, kitty-corner from Costco Wholesale.

The facility would have 56 private units, each outfitted with a bed, chair and storage bins, and would provide on-site services to help residents find permanent housing and address medical or mental health concerns. It's modeled after Avivo Village, which opened three years ago in Minneapolis' North Loop.

"The program design came from spending a lot of time with people who are living outdoors," said Sheila Delaney, who has worked as a consultant for the nonprofit since 2020.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest brought increasing risk to people experiencing homelessness, Avivo staff went tent-to-tent in encampments to try to find a solution.

"Sometimes we get a lot of credit for this, but honestly I feel like it shouldn't be impressive," Delaney said. "We simply said, 'Hey, why are you outside and what's keeping you outside?'"

The answers often included reasons folks were turned away from other shelters: they owned pets or they were under the influence or drugs or alcohol. And some simply liked the camaraderie of community living. Avivo Village serves those residents and, since it opened, has welcomed 462 people, 12 dogs, seven cats and 17 babies. Of those residents, 200 people are now in permanent housing.

The proposed St. Cloud site was chosen because it is properly zoned for a shelter already. Rezoning land for shelters is often contentious, said St. Cloud Community Development Director Matt Glaesman.

"There's not a lot of places for something like this," Delaney said. Council approval is still needed because the land is owned by the city.

Before the North Loop shelter opened, nearby residents had concerns about the potential for increased crime, vandalism and loitering, said David Jeffries, Avivo Village program director.

"We did our best to be good neighbors," he said. "We cleaned up outside. We got involved with community graffiti removal that had nothing to do with us; we just wanted to help beautify spaces. Residents and staff went out and participated in community events — and we still do. "

Delaney said Avivo was initially contacted by Harry Fleegel, who oversees the Lincoln Center shelter on St. Cloud's east side.Grievances aired at city meetings since it opened three years ago include increased drug paraphernalia at neighboring businesses, confrontations between shelter residents and customers of area businesses and shelter residents meandering through backyards at night.

Fleegel has since built individual housing units, similar to Avivo Village, and implemented a higher staff-to-resident ratio to address concerns. He supports the Avivo proposal.

Nicole Obinger, a former volunteer at the Lincoln Center shelter, is now a member of the steering committee for Avivo. One tour of the Minneapolis facility made her a believer.

"They are dealing with the same caliber people that [Lincoln Center] was dealing with — the same mental illness and the same chronic addiction — and it was a calm environment," she said.

Obinger said she hopes people stop ignoring the problem in St. Cloud. "What Avivo brings is a place that will keep these people alive until they hopefully make a decision [to get] into recovery."