On a narrow sidewalk on the edge of Bushwick, Brooklyn, last Friday evening, a DJ was blasting techno music, his mixer set up on a foldable table. On the other side of the sidewalk, the smell of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers wafted from the grill, while a crowd was chatting and eating.
The scene would have been reminiscent of a Brooklyn summer block party, were it not for the free hand sanitizers and masks, and piles of clothes that were for donation.
The event was part of an ongoing community support effort run by Caitlin Baucom. Baucom, who formerly hosted illegal raves at Trevors Haus, a Do-It-Yourself venue in their loft, now runs a community hub from the sidewalk in front of their loft at 1083 Broadway.
“The intention is to be an open container that has as many resources as possible in place,” said Baucom.
Like many event spaces, Trevors Haus was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Their last show, one of their most successful and packed ever, was on March 5. During the Black Lives Matter protests in June Baucom made protest kits and distributed them from a closed gym on the ground level of their building, with the permission of the gym owner. Due to their loft’s central location, many organizations started storing supplies at their place, and Baucom started to distribute the excess supplies while offering their loft as a safe place where people could gather and “be themselves”.
Yet, not everyone agrees with Baucom’s community efforts. Real Estate Attorney Richard Pogostin of Dodworth Development Corp. was critical of Baucom’s activities, citing liability concerns and alleging that they have received complaints from nearby businesses.
“If someone slips and falls, who are they going to sue?” Pogostin told Bklyner on the phone, alleging that Baucom has not paid rent in over a year.
Baucom said they had an amicable relationship with their landlord prior to this fallout and gave their landlord a rent check in February. Since then Baucom, along with other tenants on her block who rent from Dodworth Development Corp., have been on rent-strike, protesting upkeep and repair shortcomings, they say. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a 90-day moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenants on March 20, which has since been extended until the end of the year.
While Baucom continues to live in their loft, they were pressured to cease using their loft and the ground-level space for other activities in mid-July over disputes with Pogostin, and move their endeavors onto the sidewalk. So from the middle of July, every Thursday through Sunday, Baucom, along with other volunteers set up a few folding tables in front of their loft apartment and provide an assortment of services, from distributing goods such as carriages, strollers, and blankets, to providing hot meals.
“It [started as] a hub for giving away stuff to the community,” said Holliday, who like many of the volunteers lives no more than a few blocks away and met Baucom while walking by. “The whole project is ever-evolving and it doesn’t have like a mission statement.”
There is a mother from Park Slope who collects cribs from her friends and brings them down for donation; food pantries give them their extra supplies for distribution; Supper Collective, an NYC food organization provides hot meals every Saturday and Sunday. While speaking, a man passed by and donated a box of clothes.
One of the most pressing issues in recent months has been housing, and there have been many cases where they provided temporary housing for persons who were evicted or were suffering from domestic violence. Holliday described a few emergency cases where they provided hotel housing for persons who were evicted through either personal funds or GoFundMe campaigns.
With many of their most frequent visitors coming from nearby shelters, Holliday has also started helping them find permanent housing through the New York City Housing Program.
The barbeque on Friday was in fact, hosted by Carl Dullock, a 63-year-old resident of the nearby shelter. Dullock comes to Baucom’s center regularly to avoid “what’s going on at the shelter.”
“I bounded with them, they’re like my family,” said Dullock. “I wanted to do it for them because they are always out here for the community.”
Several people in the gathering mentioned the sense of community as the most important part.
“It’s about having a real ear and a real hug,” said Diane, another neighbor who volunteers routinely. “Sometimes you just need an embrace.”
Rabbi Green, a 36-year resident of the neighborhood who volunteers regularly, said what they are doing is “connecting the dots and building community”, by putting people with needs in touch with resources.
While there are a lot of plans that Baucom hopes to accomplish, with the cold season looming, their priority is securing a space.
In the meantime, Baucom and their volunteers continue to facilitate resources from the few foldable tables that they store in their apartment’s hallway and create a “daily sense of joy, acceptance, and material support for the humans living around.”
“What it actually is compared to exponentially what it means to people is both very beautiful and extremely sad,” Baucom said.