WEST PALM BEACH – Homeless, helpless and hopeless is how Roy Foster described himself at one of the lowest points of his life.
An Army veteran, Foster struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism. But a family intervention and a 30-day stint in the Miami VA Hospital was the start of a long road to recovery. Foster used these life lessons to help others by establishing Stand Down House. The organization helps veterans struggling with addiction and homelessness in Florida.
In honor of his service, Foster has been selected as one of the top ten CNN Heroes. He was selected out of more than 9,000 submissions from 100 countries.
The city of West Palm Beach also honored Foster on Veterans Day, Nov. 11 during a ceremony that drew hundreds of people to City Hall, according to news reports.
“I did not have a clue of the magnitude of the number of people that were submitted (for this honor),’’ he said. “I was embarrassed because people were making a big ‘hoop-la’ out of something I chose to do and what I love to do.”
Andrea Ivory, a Miami Lakes resident and breast cancer survivor, is the other person from South Florida who was selected as a top ten finalist for the CNN Heroes award. The winner will be announced on Thanksgiving Day.
Ivory helped organize mobile mammography vans, making it possible for more than 500 women in South Florida to get free screenings.
“All women are at risk for breast cancer and we have to be vigilant,” Ivory said. “Lack of funds or health insurance shouldn’t prohibit screenings.”
For his part, Foster said he’s no “hero,” but rather that the real heroes are fighting and dying for our freedoms.
“The heroes right now are dying. We support the troops. We support them on the battlefield. It’s just part of being an American,” he said. “The men and women in the military make it possible for me to take care of them by them taking care of our front. A reward to anything you do is how it’s measured in the end. I appreciate it, but I’m no hero.”
Foster and Ivory will attend the CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood this month, airing on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, at 9 p.m. on CNN.
As finalists, Foster and Ivory will receive $25,000 each, with the overall winner from the top ten finalists receiving $100,000 at the awards ceremony based on online voting, which closes Nov. 19.
Foster, 54, currently lives in West Palm Beach. But he was born and raised in Americus, Georgia, a small town near Albany with small town values, he said.
Foster served in the U.S. Army from 1974 to 1980, in the Vietnam War era, but was shipped to Germany for a tour of duty after he finished training.
“The military can become an environment similar to a college campus, parties and fun when you are on your own time,” he said. “It was my introduction to alcohol. It was tradition…if someone got a promotion, for a celebration…with me, drinking progressed from beer to wine, wine to hard liquor.”
After leaving the military, Foster struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism, losing his job, and eventually becoming homeless.
Foster said he hit rock bottom a couple of times here in Florida, where, he said, “I found myself living out of my car or in houses with other users. No utilities, no lights, no water…all the toilets filled with everything, on the verge of being arrested.”
He added: “That was my rock bottom. Then it was like, ‘I’ve got to get out of this. I’ve got to get treatment.’ ”
Foster said a family intervention was the turning point in his life.
“I was homeless and an alcoholic. I was hopeless, helpless. I didn’t really care. I came to live with my sister Veronica (now deceased),” he said.
“She brought me back to a place where I understood life…our morals, our values, the basics. She simply accepted me for who I was and where I was. She was my rescuer.”
Sobriety didn’t come easy, Foster said. He continued to relapse even after seeking treatment at the Miami VA Hospital.
He said things didn’t really start to change until he went to Faith Farms for an 18-month program, and then transitioned into a halfway house.
Foster eventually became the director of that house and said he knew then he wanted to help others with similar afflictions.
Foster and his friend, the late Donald Reid, started Faith*Hope*Love*Charity, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless male veterans with substance-abuse problems.
Through the program, Stand Down House was founded in 2000, providing services to nearly 900 veterans.
“Veterans are our men and women who have dedicated their lives in order to preserve our freedoms,” Foster said. “Here in this country, they should never be abandoned or forgotten because their wars and battles will continue for a lifetime. We must never forget.”
For information about Stand Down House, call 561-968-1612 or visit www.standown.org.
Photo: Roy Foster