Avivo Village takes in the unsheltered homeless

Photo by Aria Binns

In an effort to reduce the number of homeless in Minneapolis the temporary housing project Avivo Village, in partnership with the North Loop Association, opened its doors last month to nearly one hundred people experiencing homelessness.

“We’re calling them tiny homes. They really are rooms,” said Emily Bastian, Avivo’s vice president of ending homelessness. “Something COVID-safe, something that they could know that their belongings are going to be secured.”

“The Avivo and North Loop neighbors are being very intentional about developing relationships and planning future community involvement,” said the program’s director of communications, Kim Sheagren. “We have also entered into a formal Good Neighborhood agreement to facilitate transparent communication and mutual support.”

The North Loop Association, consisting of passionate, community-driven volunteers, proved indispensable in making Avivo Village a reality. The idea of the tiny dwellings was sparked by the tragic Drake Hotel fire in downtown Minneapolis in 2019, which displaced over 250 people.

 A community advocate, Sheila Delaney, decided to respond to the emergency by helping to secure a lease agreement for an empty warehouse. Hennepin County helped to secure the space and funding, while the contracting company, Greiner Construction, provided the labor. This space and mission, previously known as “Indoor Villages,” would become Avivo Village.

“Avivo Village is a two-year pilot program, estimated at about $8 million,” Sheagren stated. It is funded by the CARES ACT through the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and the State. According to the Avivo website, qualifying individuals must be experiencing unsheltered homelessness to qualify.

 “In the summer of 2020, Avivo was asked to survey individuals living in the Powderhorn Park encampment,” said Sheagren. “Approximately 25% identified as African American, and 44% identified as Native American. We would expect a similar racial breakdown in the Avivo Village residents.”

Homelessness remains a serious problem in Minneapolis. According to the Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness, roughly 540 people have been temporarily living in hotels. The latest report in January on unsheltered homelessness found more than 640 people living in spaces unfit for rehabilitation.

Submitted photo Rep. Ilhan Omar with Avivo Village staff

Avivo Village derives its name from the root word “vivo” meaning “to be fully alive.” Part of their mission is to increase the well-being of village residents through recovery and career advancement. Beyond the new structure’s ability to house and rehabilitate Minnesota’s homelessness population, Avivo is described as a low-barrier shelter that facilitates a harm-reduction approach.

“Avivo Village was designed to serve adults experiencing unsheltered homelessness, people living on the streets and other places not appropriate for human habitation,” said Sheagren. Avivo finds its residents through street outreach workers who have relationships with adults living unsheltered. They refer individuals to Adult Shelter Connect (ACS), which manages a priority pool that receives notifications from Avivo Village when an opening is available. ASC contacts the selected individual’s street outreach worker to see if they are ready to move into the temporary housing.

“We do not want anyone to be unsafe to themselves or others. Whatever the circumstances, we will come alongside each person and support management of abstinence regarding their use. We will support them on their pathway to a stable, healthy lifestyle,” explained the director.

Located in the North Loop of Minneapolis, the Village consists of 100 tiny “dwellings” arranged in an order that looks like a village with a town gathering space. Each dwelling is about 70 square feet and provides a lockable door, window, electricity, bed, table, chair and shelving. The community space offers individual bathrooms and showers, laundry facilities, and access to refrigerators and microwaves.

Residents are offered services for mental health and medical care, security services, and culturally responsive case managers who are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also receive catered meals three times a day.

Residents are granted a 30-day initial stay and are allowed to remain in accordance with their progress towards their personal goals. “We anticipate an average of 90 days for residents to achieve success,” said Sheagren, “depending on each person’s individual circumstances and needs.”

Aria Binns welcomes reader responses to abinns@spokesman-recorder.com.