Young mothers are being forced into prostitution in Londonderry in order to pay off debts, according to a local charity worker.
Linda Leonard, manager of the Foyle Centre of Christians Against Poverty, a charity who help people struggling to pay back debts, said there are people living in fear because of “drug-related” debts and predatory lenders.
The Waterside woman also spoke of the mental strain placed on those who cannot pay off credit card debts and traditional bank debts but stressed that her organisation is here to help.
“I’ve come across a few girls, locally, who have told me they actually had to sell their bodies because they were so nervous about not having the money to pay that this was their only option,” she said.
“It is so sad. You know, these were young mothers with children. I heard this straight from their own mouths.”
Christians Against Poverty says it fielded 479 calls for help in the first week of 2015 alone and are expecting a deluge of calls for help in the coming weeks.
“We see a rise in calls during January and February because most people can’t face tackling their finances before Christmas”, said Linda.
She places some of the blame for debt problems on the dire economic circumstances across the North West, although she said poor financial management can also lead people into unmanageable debt.
“There have been a lot of job losses across the North West”, she explained.
“There is no work and there are working people who have either lost jobs or can’t get jobs.
“So many people have been made redundant.
“I had a man who was made redundant who had a house, a mortgage and a wife and three children.
“He just couldn’t make ends meet.
“They ended up at each other’s throats, they couldn’t cope, they broke down in their marriage.
“He had to sell his home so he lost his job, he lost his home and he lost his family.
“That fella was ready, as they say, he was ready for the Foyle.
“It’s not just debt, it is all the ripples that come in its wake.”
Ms Leonard explained that her organisation, which is linked to local Church Cornerstone, is here to help regardless of circumstances.
“I have been in Creggan, I have been in the Fountain, I have been everywhere really”, she said.
“It is a problem that cuts across. It doesn’t matter what community, really, I will go.
“I’ve been in places that have been quite dangerous. I mean, I have been in one house in particular that wasn’t too hot.
“I’ve seen and I know, what there is out there as well.
“There’s drugs related stuff.
“I’ve been in a house like that and it can be very scary for people.
“I ask that question with people too. I say ‘I don’t want anything hidden. I want you to come clean.
“If you owe your man who is going around lending money to people I need to know because that is another debt and it can go down as a family member.’ “We tell them they can just say they owe a family member, because they be terrified.”
She explained the help available from her organisation: “We have to be linked in to Churches because we are a Christian organisation but the purpose is just to help people, all over.
“We’re going for 17 years in England and Northern Ireland for five years. This is my fourth year now with Christians Against Poverty.
“It’s a debt charity, it has won a lot of awards.
“Martin Lewis (founder of moneysavingexpert.com) recommends us everywhere.
“He talks about CAP all the time because we have helped thousands of people out of debt.
“The way we work is we go into the person’s home and we do something like a fact finding mission to find out what kind debt they have and then we send it off to head office. When the person rings the freephone number and whatever postcode they have, they are linked to whatever area manager is best for them - and I am in Derry.
“So we would go out then and we would take somebody, a support worker, with me because if we are going out to somebody’s house we always have to take somebody with me for safety and stuff.
“We just go out and find out where they are and we can sense right away if they are a young family with no food and no heat. I can provide food and heat as like a one-off to get them up and running, to tide them over.
“The difference with us and other debt charities and debt help is we support them and stay with them right through until they are out of debt. Should it take three years, we continue to visit them and contact them because you can find people are nearly suicidal.
“People can be left alone in a stressful situation and sometimes they just need somebody to unload so we will go away maybe for coffee or go and visit them - just try to keep linked with them.
“Four in ten people believe that no one can help them with their debts, according to some research we’ve done.
“It can feel like you’ve hit a brick wall but we see ‘impossible’ situations where people get their debt cleared.
“There are people to help and it can get sorted, however complicated or dire it seems.”
To get help from Christians Against Poverty, call 08003280006 or visit capuk.org.