Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cable as Community

During my first year as a case manager I was a good deal more judgmental about the importance cable (and to a degree, cellphones) is to a good number of clients. When clients request financial assistance (i.e. with rent or utilities) we need to do a budget with them first. A few times clients would tell me that they spend almost $100 each month on cable or phone. Sometimes this would come to about 20% of their income. Towards the end of last year, when I knew our funds were low, I suggested to a client that in the worse case scenario, if we were unable to help, that one option he may consider may be not to have cable for a few months.

The client was a bit stupefied. “But I won’t be able to watch TV because I don’t have an antenna.”

Yes. I’m sure your cable will entertain you immensely once you no longer live in your apartment because you were unable to catch up on your rent.

Of course that was my uncensored thought. I’ve absorbed the case manager guide book – listen, ask the client what she wants to do, offer a suggestion, and go from there.

It took me a while to get over the fact that number of clients who pay a good deal more than half their income towards rent and barely make ends meet will still have cable. I finally learned to appreciate, though, that for a lot of low income folks cable is sometimes a sole source of entertainment, especially when going-out options are quite limited. It’s a way to treat yourself, to find comfort, to escape. But it’s still a bit tough for me to understand when people choose to continue and enjoy luxuries, such as cable, when they’re racking in debt, especially when their housing is at stake.

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