homelessness

Armrests Stolen From Cambridge Benches; Advocates Say They Target Homeless

Armrests that divided benches at the Central Square MBTA station in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have been stolen; police are searching for the people who took them, but people claiming responsibility online say they were placed there to prevent homeless people from sleeping

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Determined to make the city more accommodating to homeless people, thieves are stealing armrests off benches at Central Square MBTA station in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then gloating about it online.

The issue has drawn public criticism and sparked debate.

Transit police released four surveillance photos of people who are wanted for questioning in connection with the thefts, which happened overnight on Feb. 14 and again, in the afternoon, on Feb. 22.

A Twitter handle called Shlubs for Housing posted on behalf of those claiming responsibility for the thefts, arguing that the armrests prevent the city's homeless population from sleeping on the benches.

It also posted a photo of a pile of armrests.

The group pointed out that the city's homeless population has only grown since the eviction moratorium ended in October, months after it was put into place shortly after the coronavirus pandemic tightened its grip on the economy.

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But some people said there are no excuses for stealing public property.

"I just think there are a lot better — a lot bigger fish to fry, a lot better causes to espouse," said Robert Winters, a Cambridge resident who serves on the Central Square Advisory Committee. "If people think that somehow housing people in subway stations is a solution to anything, I have to question that."

Winters said the committee, which played a role in installing the benches in the 1990s, plans to discuss the issue at its next meeting.

In a statement on Thursday, the MBTA said the armrests are there to help people sit down or stand up.

The group that claimed responsibility for the thefts didn't respond to a request for comment.

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