MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — While most people visit a Minneapolis city park for leisure, at least 400 people currently call it home because they don’t have one.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board states 34 parks now have homeless encampments across the city. Several plans are underway to find housing or build new shelters for them, and there’s one unique idea that’s taking a tiny, yet big approach.

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Sheila Delaney is a community advocate whose effort to help the homeless find housing started with the Drake Hotel fire last Christmas in downtown Minneapolis.

“I learned a lot about how our community can respond to an emergency,” Delaney said. “It’s not humane to have people living in tents. It’s extremely dangerous for all of us.”

Her mission continues through the idea called “Indoor Villages,” a community of tiny houses that would be built inside an empty warehouse at 1251 N. Washington Ave. Delaney says a lease agreement for the property is in the works.

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Similar projects have popped up in other major United States cities, however they’re outside. Indoor Villages would be protected from harsh Minnesota winters.

Ninety tiny houses would be built inside the facility. Delaney estimates it would help roughly 300 people a year with each of them staying for about a month at a time. Unlike a tent, they’re secured with locks, offering privacy and security.

“This idea came from unsheltered people and community advocates like myself,” she said. “They’ll have time to decompress and then they’ll have an opportunity to partake in a lot of services preparing them to move on.”

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The services include assisting in finding permanent housing, drug addiction treatment and mental health needs.

The project would cost $8 million. Delaney said a local family foundation is willing to make a six-figure donation so long as government funding comes through.

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Minneapolis City Council member Lisa Goodman said she feels compelled to help Indoor Villages come to fruition.

“It’s incumbent upon us in government to embrace new ideas, to embrace ideas that can be implemented fast and in a cost-effective way,” Goodman said. “Indoor tiny shelters is a new idea and we should embrace that idea because it meets our goals of getting people out of the cold, out of parks, into shelter that they’re willing to go to.”

Goodman says she’s ready to assist with licensing and zoning aspects of the project, while also calling on county and state governments to use federal dollars to fund the project. She specifically pointed out the Federal CARES Act and Emergency Solution Grants as resources for state and county government to utilize for funding.

“People living in tents in the middle of the city is not acceptable and moving people from park to park is making the situation worse,” Goodman said. “We need a safe, low-barrier alternative. Indoor Villages is not how we’ve done things in the past, but it could be what we should do in the future.”

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Indoor Villages is a two-year pilot program. The goal is to have it up and running in November.

Jeff Wagner