Helping the Homeless: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

GreyhoundPoverty Insights is a website that offers a very exceptional “Opinions” section, packed with thought-provoking editorials. One of the major contributors is Joel John Roberts, who used to live in Venice, California, and still writes about it.

As well as being the editor of Poverty Insights, David Henderson founded Idealistics Inc, “a social enterprise that builds web-based technologies that help social sector organizations help people better.” That sounds pretty good! Under his byline, we find such intriguing titles as “Bad Data, Bad Decisions — How Well Intentioned Organizations can Hurt the Poor” and “Poverty Goes on When the Holidays are Gone.”

Henderson wrote the post we’re looking at today, “Grey Hound Bus Wins War on Generosity.” He wanted to help somebody move to another town where the future might have better possibilities, so he went online to buy the person a bus ticket. That’s when he learned about the Gift Ticket Fee, which is only one ugly manifestation of a “corporate culture that kicks the crap out of poor people.”

Henderson reports,

When I went to purchase the ticket, I was astonished to read the following upon checkout, ‘An $18 US Gift Ticket Fee applies when the primary card holder is not traveling.’ The ticket I was purchasing was $36, meaning this $18 generosity fee was 50% of the value of the ticket!

He tweeted Greyhound about it, and received a reply indicating that the system is in place to protect the corporation from fraud. In Henderson’s eyes, the blatant fraud is being committed by Greyhound, given that…

… every other company in the country seems to have figured out how to handle credit card transactions without an $18 dollar fine.

Poverty Insights extended to the bus company an invitation to present its case as a guest blog on the Poverty Insights website, an opportunity which Greyhound has so far declined. But Dr. Mary McLaughlin shared her experience. She tried to buy a ticket for someone in another city and was told that it just plain could not be done over the phone with a credit card, because of the terrorism threat. After wasting a large part of the doctor’s day messing around on the phone, the company finally relented and electronically took her money, plus the Gift Ticket Fee, of course. But that wasn’t the end of it! McLaughlin says,

The disabled veteran was required to stand in line at the ticket counter over and over again as numerous questions arose that the ticket agent insisted must be answered only by me. The disabled veteran had to get out of line repeatedly, call me again and again, and then stand in line again and again. This process took all day, starting about 8:00 AM and ended only when the last bus of the day was just about to leave the station.

Getting back to David Henderson: Greyhound’s return tweet helpfully informed him that a ticket buyer can avoid incurring the Gift Ticket Fee by paying at the terminal. Only problem was, the person who needed the ticket was hundreds of miles away. Henderson was not about to show up at the ticket window. His and McLaughlin’s stories are so disgusting, I was inspired to send my own two cents’ worth to the Poverty Insights comment box:

Even being in the same city doesn’t help much. I called Greyhound to buy tickets on my credit card, so my visitors could go home. Greyhound gave me this advice: Avoid the extra charge by paying at the terminal. Problem is, the terminal is only open weekdays between 9 and 4. One option would be to make an extra trip ahead of time, downtown and back, via city bus. I’d already arranged with a neighbor for a ride in the middle of the night, so the passengers could catch their 2 AM bus, and didn’t want to ask for this too. Nor, with my guests here for only a couple of days, did we want to spend our limited time together shuttling around on city buses to procure the damn tickets. So I sucked it up and paid the extortionate Gift Ticket Fee.

The Greyhound bus is the last-resort mode of transport for people experiencing homelessness and other economically oppressed and underprivileged Americans. How else would anyone in the carless indigent class get around? But we don’t single out Greyhound as a company that is particularly harsh to the poor. On the contrary! The bus line is joined by money-transfer companies, credit card companies, telephone companies, and many others, in making it expensive to be poor. Helping a relative or friend in a crisis is a costly proposition, in which every contribution is penalized by a hefty Samaritan Tax. Corporate policy dictates that “No good deed goes unpunished.”


Source: “Grey Hound Bus Wins War on Generosity,” Poverty Insights, 02/22/11
Image by Mike McCaffrey, used under its Creative Commons license.

  1. Marcus Goodbar says:

    I am homeless after coming back to West Virginia when promised a job. I spent my last two hundred dollars for a bus ticket in Panama City Fl and now I have nothing and can’t get back home. I am hoping there are still people out there in the world who are willing to help others get back on there feet, I have a job already back home in FL and have no way there. My e-mail address is [REMOVED], hopefully someone will find it in their heart to help, the churches around here (Huntington WV) will only help with providing some clothing and food to the local mission. I tried all resourses around here, I really need to get home ASAP.

    [EDIT: We have removed this commenter’s contact info. If you would like to get in touch please contact House the Homeless and we will relay the message. – The Editor]

  2. paul says:

    Me and my girlfriend are homeless in Huntington wv, we try to find jobs but have no luck. If anyone can help in anyway it would be greatly appreciated, we have no family to help. I’m injured from a bad wreck as well. Thank you for your time and god bless.

    [EDIT: We have removed this commenter’s contact info. If you would like to get in touch please contact House the Homeless and we will relay the message. – The Editor]

  3. mary says:

    Im having a terrible time here in florida. Not receiving good health care, and haven’t found a good shelter that has been supportive of me. My health is terrible. I have type 2 diabetes, back degeneration, r.a, and ovarian tumors. My stuff was stolen from me while I was homeless in south beach. My passport, and 200.00 greyhound ticket, and personal info., and food and clothing I just bought. They were neglectful of homeless men here in florida. Im tired of living in florida, there are too many alcoholics not receiving treatment. People at Camillus house acted like they didn’t care if we lived or die. To say the truth, my exp. is not getting any better, cause there aren’t enough caring people. Im a baptized Christian, and am telling the truth!!! I have no reason to lie! It seems like no one wants to give me an oppt. when I have brain damage, and cant get a college degree. If you are able to assist, which I hope and pray that someone will be nice enough to help me, emotionally, and possibly financially, Id greatly appreciate it. So far, my exp. here in florida has been hell. So Im hoping someone would be nice enough to pay for my ticket to another state, where I will receive good health services, and receive shelter for at least a year, or two. Greatly appreciate your help. God Bless You. Please email me at

    [EDIT: We have removed this commenter’s contact info. If you would like to get in touch please contact House the Homeless and we will relay the message. – The Editor]

  4. Daisy Edwards says:

    My name is Daisy Edwards and my husband name is Red. We are stuck in oklahoma city, Ok. And we are homeless sleeping under a bridge. it sucks a lot. there barley any resources and we got no money or anything. we try to sell are xxbox 360 for money but no one wants to help. we have to walk everywhere all the time and that sucks….we get bitten by mosquitos and more. its not a place for me and others. we try to get a job and get off the streets. but that doesnt work either grrrr. we dont know anymore… i am only 20 years old and i been living on the streets seens i was 13 years old. i want something better. i wish someone can help us…..

    [EDIT: We have removed this commenter’s contact info. If you would like to get in touch please contact House the Homeless and we will relay the message. -The Editor]

  5. Hello my name is Rebecca l milnes I am looking for someone to help me get out of town, due to problems with my husband ,he is abusive and I can no longer be with it gets very physical , Also I need a pet carrier for my dog she is around 10 points. Please call me if possible thank you 520/736088

  6. Pat Hartman says:

    Dear Ms. Milnes,
    House the Homeless isn’t set up to be able to deal with individual questions and difficulties. Please consult your local resources, which are much better equipped to help you than someone at a distance. We hope things go well for you.

  7. Deanna Dean and Domonic says:

    Me my father and my son had drove to Pennsylvania for one last vacation before school. On the way back home to panama city beach florida our head gasket blew and the motor went out. We have been stuck in morgantown west virginia with no money and no way of getting back home. We have put every penny we had into fixing our vehicle only to later be told that we need a new motor. Does anybody know of any churches or organizations that will help us get back home to florida?

  8. Sarah says:

    Me and My husband are looking to get to Nashville TN … We are staying in Huntington at the shelter and looking to get back to Nashville where I am from. Do the churches around here help?? I have gone to one place but they said they have no funding and we don’t hardly know anything about this town.???? any suggestions or advice ?