Bob CotéOur Legendary Leader
Bob Coté grew up in Detroit, MI, and was a Golden Gloves boxer. Those experiences prepared Bob for the challenges life presented him. A successful career in sales took Bob to Denver in the early 80’s; however, it was during this time that addiction took hold of Bob and would chart a different course for his life — a course marked by adversity and, ultimately, triumph.
Bob’s addiction consumed him to the point he wound up living on Denver’s skid row. In a moment of clarity, he saw the demise and occasional death of other homeless addicts. Bob knew he might suffer the same fate so he sought the assistance to break his cycle of addiction. He then became instrumental in helping other homeless addicts to gain their sobriety through the Step 13 organization.
Bob Coté became a fixture on Larimer Street. A towering presence of tough love, American Enterprise magazine described him as “a one-man alternative to the welfare state. Take one part Florence Nightingale, add three parts John Wayne, and one part cowboy poet…running a shelter that turns homeless drunks and junkies into productive citizens….” President/Founder of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and longtime friend, Robert Woodson declared, “Bob not only was an advocate for the homeless, he became a witness to them.”
Coté’s unorthodox style didn’t always sit well with politicians and other homeless advocates. The Denver Post once described Bob as a “Skid Row heretic” because he scoffed at the so-called traditional ways of treatment saying they “de-humanized the homeless.” Coté also rejected any government funding for Step 13 declaring taxpayer dollars enabled non-profits to become addicted to government money and were unnecessary to run an effective program.
Bob’s independent spirit gained national recognition for Step 13. President George H.W. Bush designated Step 13 one of his “Thousand Points of Light.” ABC’s 20/20 and John Stossel featured Bob and the simple, yet effective approach to helping residents become sober and self-reliant. Bob’s philosophy of “Work works” – whereby residents are required to pay rent and be employed – received accolades from the Wall Street Journal to Reader’s Digest.
Bob parlayed this recognition into tackling an issue near to his heart: Reforming Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Bob witnessed firsthand the devastating effect SSI had on the homeless: Individuals receiving SSI – originally designed to help those with disabilities – were using their checks to purchase drugs and alcohol. His outspoken passion caught the attention of then-Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who tapped Bob to lobby Congress and successfully incorporate changes to SSI under the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.
While Bob impacted public policy and gained recognition for Step 13, his legacy can ultimately be found in the thousands of men whose lives he touched at Step 13. Bob’s legacy will continue for years to come in the staff that he shaped and in the men that will go through the doors of Step 13 and come out clean, sober, and self-reliant.
Bob Coté passed away on September 27, 2013. He was loved by many; he was respected by even more. He is greatly missed. While Step 13 has changed its name to Step Denver, we remain true to Bob’s vision and his core principles of Sobriety, Work and Accountability.