When I took out a $50 loan, we ended up homeless.’

When I took out a $50 loan, we ended up homeless.’

When Michelle arrived in the neighbourhood, she was a complete stranger. She'd been keeping her head down as she dropped her children off at school because the playground was full of the usual parent cliques.

One mother, however, was nice, persistent, and asked Michelle out for a cup of coffee each day.

Besides the move, Michelle's work hours had been reduced, so her finances were already stretched thin.

To make matters worse, she had less money than usual to spend on her son's birthday present, so she was apprehensive.

Michelle's new buddy volunteered to lend a hand, saying that she had been there, and that she would pay her back next month when she needed it most. In the end, that's what friends are for.

That's how it began.

A new offer was offered to her because she had to pay back the money and meet her remaining bills the following month.

According to the BBC, she says, "This time she stated it will be with interest, but that was a loan that was twice the payback." "The following month, I was spending twice as much money as I had the previous month. It was a recurrence. Because I was spending more, I had to borrow more money each month."

It was easy to get sucked into the whirlpool.

"I felt mortified by the thought. Nobody knew, and I didn't want anyone to know about it. Every night, I was in tears."

Over the course of several months, the £50 evolved into thousands of pounds, all paid in cash with no records retained. This quickly became apparent when Michelle tried to put her foot down.
Colletta Smith, the BBC's consumer affairs correspondent
The windows of her house were smashed at night, people flung items at her house, and somebody burned things on fire outside the front door.

Michelle's children were aware that something was amiss, no matter how hard she tried to conceal it.

So, "you could be out quite late," she informs me, referring to the start of the summer. Winter months meant that I was trapped in that house from 4 p.m. onwards, in the dark.

Falsehoods about her were being circulated widely on the internet, and she was seeing an uptick in abuse as a result. One of the worst experiences of her life, she says me, made her sick to her stomach.

"As soon as I heard the news, I was mortified, and I feared that someone at work would see it. I was wondering if I would lose my job because of this. My future would be affected if you Google my name and find all of this information about me."
Afraid and depressed, Michelle's family was in a precarious position as a result of the situation.

Her house was broken into and ransacked at this time last year.

"Beds and carpets were urinated on by the children, as well as other items within. I had to get rid of a lot of things that were still in the house… I'll never get back some of the things that were taken from me. Things that bring back a lot of memories."

Her voice breaks as she tells me this, and I can see she's nervous. She made the decision to leave at that point. It was time for her to go with her children and the few belongings that had been left behind.

Last Christmas, Michelle's family was forced to move into a shelter. They were given a place to stay, but they had no belongings to call their own. Nothing on the table, no gifts, no tree.

She breaks down as she tells the storey: "The worst part was realising it was Christmas and that I'd left my kids without a place to call home. What kind of mother abandons her children to the mercy of the streets? That's what I did. That was my decision to make. These youngsters had nothing when I took them away from everything they had ever known."

In the end, Michelle made a decision that set the course of her life in motion again. She dialled the Stop Loan Sharks hotline, which is anonymous. Since then, Michelle's life has taken a turn for the better.
"They were really considerate. There was no scepticism. That's what the other individual told me. I was able to breathe again, as if someone had finally grasped the enormity of what these individuals were capable of."

Charities are urging people not to utilise loan sharks this holiday season, fearing that they may potentially go into deep debt.

Relatives of Michelle's have been relocated to a safe area, and Michelle has had time to consider what transpired.

There is no doubt in my mind that Michelle is not naive, as she tells me. Because of my lack of self-control, I committed a mistake, but I'm not a terrible parent."

Michelle wants everyone to know that this is the first time she's ever spoken publicly about her experiences. Having a decent job, never having been laid off, and thinking someone was just being nice, she didn't expect it to happen to her.

Even if a loan shark appears to be a large, bearded man with his head shaved, it may be be a mother at the playground or a family friend or a neighbour.

This year she tells me, "We had nothing to celebrate last year, and I couldn't give my kids anything."

This year, however, is unique: "Aside from that, there's nothing else to it. We've got a place to call our own this year. We live in a peaceful, settled place and have a wonderful existence. And so are my children."

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