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Homeless man moves in with strangers, and now he's part of the family

Homeless, hooked on drugs and booze, wanted for petty crimes, Kevin Swayzie's life was a mess until two strangers moved him into their suburban home and made him one of the family.

Hooked on drugs and booze, and wanted for petty crimes, Kevin Swayzie's life was a mess

This is the third Christmas Cindy Germain, right, and Pierre Germain, centre, are spending with Kevin Swayzie since moving the formerly homeless man into their house. (Rosa Marchitelli/CBC)

Homeless, hooked on drugs and booze, and wanted for petty crimes, Kevin Swayzie's life was a mess until two total strangers moved him into their house in the suburbs and made him one of the family.

"I'm grateful to have amazing people," Swayzie says. "When I was growing up I didn't have amazing people."

He was born with a urea cycle disorder, which is associated with brain damage and learning disabilities.

Cindy Germain says it's been a lot of work helping Swayzie, centre, turn his life around, but now he's part of the family. (Rosa Marchitelli/CBC)

His parents are now dead. His mother was mentally ill and his stepfather was an alcoholic who was physically abusive. He never met his biological dad. He moved out when he was 20, but never found a place to land.

Swayzie, 32, ended up homeless — spending his days in dive downtown Calgary bars drinking and using drugs like pot, cocaine, acid, meth and ecstasy until his monthly government cheque was gone.

There were warrants for his arrest for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and theft — after he stole a bag of chips from a Walmart.

After leaving a troubled home as a young adult, Kevin Swayzie couch-surfed for years before ending up on the street. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

"It was terrible," he says. "I found [living on the streets] was too hard for me."

Swayzie tried to get clean but failed, until he met an outreach worker with Alberta Health Services. That worker got him into a program that places people with developmental disabilities into homes.

At the same time, Calgary nurse Cindy Germain and her pastor husband Pierre were living a very different life in a quiet suburb along with their adult son and pet cockatoo named Barbie. 

The couple had just purchased a home with a lot of space and decided they could put it to good use by bringing someone in.

They signed up for the same program and in July 2015, Swayzie was placed with the family.

The group lives together, eats meals together and vacations together, including a recent trip to Disney World.

"Kevin came to us with nothing, he came to us with a little box," Cindy Germain recalls.

Swayzie's problems were worse than they thought. "We didn't realize he had trouble with the law and drugs and alcohol until after he moved into our place," Germain says.

She says they considered those things a challenge, not a problem.

They helped him deal with the warrants for his arrest, by guiding him through a program called Diversion Mental Health that assists people with mental disabilities get out of the court system and back into the mental health system.

They also have him in counselling and are teaching him how to handle money.

He's started working for the first time in his life. He's a now ticket collector at a Cineplex movie theatre.

Kevin Swayzie works at a Cineplex movie theatre as a ticket collector as part of a program that employs people with developmental disabilities. (Rosa Marchitelli/CBC)

"They help me and they make me feel great about myself," he says about the Germains. "They show me I'm a person and show me great values in life."

Germain admits it's a lot of work and hasn't been easy at times. When he first moved in, Swayzie disappeared for days and came back high and drunk.

He ended up in treatment. He calls the episode his "wake up call."

"I almost had an overdose on drugs and alcohol and that's why two years sober shows me I can do great things in life and shows me I can achieve something and be myself."

Now he lives a more stable life with his new family. They vacation together, including a recent trip to Disney World.

Swayzie and the Germain family went to Florida and Walt Disney World. (Cindy Germain)

Swayzie saved up for a year to pay his own way. "Kevin is part of our family. It's like adopted but it's not," Germain says.

"Like I say to Kevin, 'I'm not your mom, I feel like I'm your big sister, so I'm here to support you in what you need but you still are the one who is making decisions.'"

And while people in the program often move on when they get back on their feet, Cindy Germain says she hopes Swayzie stays.

"I think he'll be here forever," she says.

Swayzie doesn't have any plans to move. He says one day he'd like to counsel street kids. He's also saving up for the next family vacation to Venice Beach, Calif.

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