‘I said I’d go homeless every night just to have my son back’

By Elaine Smith

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Grieving mother Elaine Smith always said she would go homeless on the streets just to get her son back. So when she got the chance to take part in last week’s Sleep in the Park, she knew she had no choice.

 Five years ago I lost my son to an accident at work. It should never have happened. He was driving a forklift truck and there were health and safety issues that weren’t addressed. He was my first child and just 22. He shouted goodbye that morning and never came home.

I never thought I would be here today to tell this story. I honestly thought I would die due to a broken heart. Over the last five years I've hit rock bottom; I’ve had every bit of mental health care and counselling that anyone could ask for. I have a support team - family, friends and my work as a care home assistant at Balhousie Care Group. Slowly my confidence has started to come back, gaining strength and courage to face the world again. I take things day by day now and I look at life in different way.

Since the accident, one thing I've always said was that if miracles could happen, I would go homeless on the streets every night just to have my son David back. Why I said that I will never know, but it’s a quote that has always stuck. 

Then an opportunity came to me a few months ago. Some girls at work started talking about taking part in Sleep in The Park. It was like it was meant for me. I jumped at the chance to sign up to Balhousie Care’s team of 20. I knew I just had to. This was my chance to do what I've said for years since my son passed.

The event was busy. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life: a park full of thousands of people covered in orange bags. I couldn't believe how we are such a caring country and all these people wanted to help and contribute to the homeless. It goes to show that there are people out there with big hearts.

The speeches during the event were spoken from the bottom of the hearts. I think the charity that organised it, Social Bite, is an inspiration to this country. It was entertaining, soul destroying and sad. I was left speechless at the reality of how things in our communities really are. The statistics, the stories and the videos were difficult to comprehend

The hardest part for me last Saturday was the battle to get through the night. I fought hard not to give up in these sub-zero temperatures. I prayed the full night for help from my Angel to keep me going but while I was brutally frozen. I fought within myself the whole night, trying to convince myself not to call anyone to come and collect me. I kept saying ‘I can do this’ but at one point I really did wonder if I was going to die with the cold. There was not one moment that whole night that I had heat. By 2 am I had no feeling left in my body and was shaking.  I curled in a ball and hoped I would make it. We were covered in a layer of frost by the morning. This was the second hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

When I returned home I walked into my house, still shivering. But I felt guilty that I had that opportunity to return to a home.  My husband met me at door and I was an emotional wreck, bursting into tears. I was glad to see my family and feel the heat. I walked inside still shaking. I think my body went into shock. I cried for a whole two hours. All I could think of was the poor people who didn't have a home to go to.

I felt privileged to know I could have a shower, be in the heat, lay in a bed, and be with my family. I could get up and put the kettle on, take extra covers from my wardrobe to heat up, select a number of different clothes to put on. I felt lucky to have all these things when others have nothing.

I live for my family – that’s what life is about. Calum, now 23, was working with David when the accident happened, my son Kai is 15 and my daughter Ciarra is 13. I was 17 when I fell pregnant with David, but I never got put out on the streets. My family supported me and loved me and my son. Then 22 years later I lost him.

Five years ago, if someone had told me I would spend a freezing night outside lying on the ground, I would have said ‘Never’. But that quote stuck with me. I would have done anything to have my boy back from heaven.

I did it, I survived it. It makes me sad to know that thousands of people have to do that every night.