CEBA Daniel L. Ritchie Award: Bob Coté

To disregard a man with tattered, dirt-caked rags for clothes and a cardboard sign on the side of the road or to give in to the momentary pang of guilt in between an otherwise “ignorance is bliss” mentality, presents a challenging moral dilemma. Every few passers-by surrenders to the words on the sign, “Anything helps … God Bless,” handing over a few crumpled dollars or some spare change.

But Bob Coté takes a different approach entirely.

To “take responsibility away from a person who can assume responsibility dehumanizes that person,” Coté said in a 2009 interview at The King’s College. “Giving people money or anything without expecting something in return is killing them. It’s suicide on the installment plan.”

Coté has discovered that tough love can be an effective method in tough times. He knows discipline can bear results – thus his cold turkey, zero tolerance style he’s employed since 1983, when he began helping homeless addicts get their lives back on track with his inpatient rehabilitation center, Step 13.

Without government funding, the voluntary, multi-phase transitional living treatment program in the heart of the Denver metro area provides men the time to kick addictive habits and ultimately emerge as healthy, stable and productive contributors to their communities with newly acquired skills and confidence.

With a 30 percent recovery rate, Coté’s program ranks comparably to national averages.

And Coté is not all talk. Coming from the street himself, he conquered alcohol addiction and has since channeled his progress to benefit others as they attempt to get clean and find work. Though strict in his methods, ultimately Coté’s concerted contributions to the Colorado community are from a place of compassion.

“There are many men who could fly but don’t or won’t,” says the “notes from bob” section on Step 13’s website. “They need a nudge  … not just a cozy place. They might fall, but it’s the only way they’ll ever get to soar to new heights.”