Resident of tiny home village welcomes safety, security, stability of Avivo

A woman stands in a doorway
Jessica Eull poses for a photo at the door to her room in Avivo Village in Minneapolis on Monday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: 10:58 a.m.

Inside her 8-by-8 ft. room at Avivo Village, Jessica Eull has what she needs to feel safe.

“You don't have to worry about having everything on you to just go to the bathroom,” Eull explained as she pointed to the lock with a passcode on her unit’s door. “You know, if you accidentally leave your cell phone or your purse isn't going to get stolen.”

Eull, 40, says most people take the comforts of home for granted. Eull was no different until a few years ago.

“I spent the last two and a half years kind of bouncing around.” Eull said. “During COVID, I was able to use unemployment money until there was none.”

Then came nights in cars and on other peoples’ couches. Eull tried the shelter system but was made to leave after she stayed out past the 10 p.m. curfew.

“I got on the bus and train and there was always delays,” Eull recalled.

Eull has stayed outdoors at times. Many of her friends still live inside various tent encampments that pop up across the city. When she visits them, Eull says they seem interested in what life is like at Avivo Village. 

“I think more people would be open to this,” Eull said. “You have the freedom to come and go as you please.”

A woman stands in a room
Resident Jessica Eull stands in her room in Avivo Village in Minneapolis on Monday. She has lived at the village since Oct. 2022.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Residents like Eull get a private room, three meals delivered per day and access to a case manager and other resources to help with legal, financial and housing goals.

In addition to the North Loop location where Eull stays, the Minneapolis City Council recently took a step toward being able to build another Avivo Village of tiny homes in south Minneapolis.

They unanimously agreed to put up a $1 million match toward a state grant of an estimated $10 million. It pays for planning and pre-development costs associated with another location. Vice President of Ending Homelessness at Avivo Emily Bastian knows there are enough people to fill any more spaces.

“There's more than enough need to have another 100 units,” Bastian said. “South Minneapolis is the spot in our community where there is greatest need.” 

A close-up of a painting
Avivo Village resident Jessica Eull shows off one of her paintings during a tour of the village in Minneapolis on Monday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

More than 100 people have been identified by outreach workers that have said they would be willing to come to Avivo Village. It’s for the unsheltered homeless population, Bastian described as people who cannot stay at most shelters or with family or friends and are out of options other than staying outside.

The low-barrier access to Avivo Village helps serve people who are often in need of substance abuse treatment, Bastian explains.

“Low-barrier means that individuals do not have to jump through hoops or show up in a certain way in order to be deserving of the services,” Bastian said.

Avivo Village gets funding from the city, county and state. It costs $4.5 million per year to operate the existing Avivo Village location with 100 tiny homes housed inside a warehouse in the North Loop neighborhood near downtown Minneapolis.

“It’s not an inexpensive intervention,” Bastian said. The area is staffed 24/7 and there are two security employees, as well as five staff on at all times. “But when we do the math, we identify that a night in Avivo Village is no more expensive than a night in a correctional facility in our community.”

A woman speaks into a walkie-talkie
Emily Bastian, vice president of ending homelessness at Avivo, speaks with a staff member over walkie talkie on Monday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Bastian said Avivo Village supports people in moving forward instead of just holding them. Since the start of 2021, Avivo Village has served 418 people, including those currently living there. The average length of stay is 154 days. Bastian also said there have been 176 overdoses successfully reversed, as well as 18 babies born.

“We have also sheltered 16 dogs and eight cats,” Bastian said.

Of the 149 individuals that have left Avivo Village into their own permanent housing with their name on a lease, 82 of them identified as Native American. Minneapolis City Council Member Jason Chavez represents parts of south Minneapolis that have a predominantly Native American unsheltered homeless population

A street sign on an indoor house
Street names are listed in English and Ojibwe through Avivo Village in Minneapolis on Monday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

He put forth the request for another Avivo Village location, and gained unanimous support from the council. Members of the council say Avivo Village is proving to be among the most effective ways to create helpful changes in the lives of people who might otherwise continue to stay at encampments, which often pop up in the same places even after city or state encampment clearings.

“We can’t just sweep the problem away, we can’t treat people like they’re garbage,” Chavez said. “That's just inhumane.”

Bastian said she believes that in Hennepin County, which Avivo Village serves, the number of unsheltered homeless is not so large that it would be impossible to help them all, and put an end to the outdoor tent encampments that are unsafe.

“There is a finite number of individuals,” Bastian said. “There’s not a prescribed path to get from point A to point B, when you have experienced trauma and addiction.”

A flower in a plastic bottle
A flower gifted to Jessica Eull from a fellow Avivo Village resident sits in a plastic bottle on Monday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Jessica Eull hopes another location becomes a reality for the sake of her friends still living outdoors who want the help. There are still legal and affordability barriers to finding work and housing for Eull, but she has a safe place to figure it out.

“I think I’ve done a lot of self healing here, I have my ups and downs,” Eull said. “But I don’t have that anger inside of me no more.”