The New York City MTA sparked backlash for saying it removed benches from subway stations to 'prevent the homeless from sleeping on them'

  • The New York City MTA said on Twitter it removed benches from stations “to prevent the homeless from sleeping on them.”
  • The since-deleted tweet sparked an immediate backlash from thousands of people on Twitter.
  • A spokesperson for the MTA said the tweet “was posted in error.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency responsible for the New York Subway system, drew anger Friday when it said on Twitter that it had removed benches from subway stations in an effort to prevent homeless individuals from sleeping on them. 

On Friday morning, a Twitter user snapped a photo at the 23rd Street subway station in Manhattan that showed a platform free of any benches. To inquire about the lack of seating, he tagged the MTA’s official account alongside the photo. About 20 minutes later, he received a reply from @NYCTSubway, the account used by the MTA to facilitate customer support and announce subway service changes.

“Hi, Jeremy,” the response, sent by an individual identified as “JP” read. “Benches were removed from stations to prevent the homeless from sleeping on them.” 

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The tweet prompted outrage, garnering hundreds of replies and thousands of quote tweets, which are similar to replies but enable Twitter users to share the original tweet on their timelines. Some called the policy “utterly evil” and “cruel,” while others said the removal of benches would have ramifications for people with disabilities who rely on benches while waiting for trains to arrive in stations.

The MTA deleted the tweet Saturday afternoon.

In this since-deleted tweet, the MTA said it had removed benches from subway stations to “prevent the homeless from sleeping on them.”Screenshot via Twitter

In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson for the MTA said the tweet was a mistake.

“The tweet was posted in error and it has since been removed. The subway is not a substitute for a shelter and homeless New Yorkers deserve much better care. We have been working with the City on this important issue and have asked for more dedicated mental health and medical resources which are urgently needed to solve the homeless crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

“As someone with arthritis it’s great to hear I will now be in immense pain for the purpose of preventing another person from suffering less,” one woman said in a tweet.

“I’m disabled so not having a spot to sit causes actual harm,” another said.

Others said they were surprised that an MTA representative would willingly admit such a policy. 

“You must be new – you’re supposed to come up with a plausible excuse that doesn’t make the agency sound like it’s run by monsters,” one person tweeted.

It’s not clear where, in how many locations, or when the MTA removed seating from subway stations, and the agency refused to answer follow-up questions. According to a February 2020 report from Gothamist, the agency last year removed the backs from about a dozen benches at the subway station on West 4th Street to reduce the number of “people sleeping in that problematic station.” 

As Gothamist noted, the MTA has in the past drawn ire from advocates for people who are homeless, as agency officials have in the past blamed the homeless for causing unsanitary conditions in stations, being disruptive, and causing train delays.  

Advocates also last year took issue with New York City’s “Subway Diversion Program,” implemented in 2019 and championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Advocates said the program failed to address the root causes of homelessness and instead used police to criminalize homeless individuals. The program was quietly discontinued in July 2020, NY1 reported.

The MTA also faced criticism over its decision last May to close subway stations from 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. in what it said was an effort to disinfect stations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The announcement was made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who controls the MTA. 

Cuomo’s office did not return Insider’s request for comment.

“The MTA and the City’s ongoing efforts to discourage homeless New Yorkers from staying on the subways are not just cruel, but are also counterproductive,” Josh Dean, Executive Director of, a New York organization focused on “unsheltered homelessness,” told Insider.

“Shuffling people around makes it infinitely more difficult for people to secure permanent housing, as it becomes nearly impossible for homeless outreach teams to maintain contact and work people through the City’s bureaucratic nightmare of applying for housing,” Dean said. 

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