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Step 13™: A Hand Up, Not A Handout

“I was drunk on Larimer Street 23 years ago,” Step 13 founder Bob Coté recalled. “And I had a moment of clarity. I saw that I was slowly committing suicide. I thought, either blow your brains out now or get it together. I poured out my quarter of a bottle of vodka into the gutter.”

Coté dragged himself off the Denver streets. And he’s brought over four thousand down-and-out people with him.

“Do you know why it’s called Step 13?” Coté queried. “It’s because that’s how many people I started with. Jesus and his disciples also made thirteen. And the United States had thirteen colonies. I like that.”

“One of the original thirteen now works for the IRS,” Coté laughed. “That’s the truth.” Coté’s philosophy is simple: work works. But it’s not easy. These people have hit bottom and it takes a lot of work to bring themselves up.

“We average fifteen requests per week toenter Step 13. Of the fifteen requests, ten will show up and enter the program,” the Step 13 Web site explains. “Of the ten, six will leave within thirty days for reasons of their own or breaking program rules, failed urine screens,curfew violations or general rule violations.

The remaining four will stay from one to three years and complete the program. In 1998 forty people were in the program from six months to two years. The remaining people had been at Step 13 from two to six months. We average one hundred residents from year to year.”

Step 13 has three basic rules at their 45,000 square foot facility at 20th and Larimer: no drugs and alcohol, get a job, and your bunk is your home.

Residents must keep their living space neat, cook, and clean their dishes. They pay $40/week rent and usually start on the ground floor with a single bed in the large, openspaced dorm. “As someone progresses through the program they move into their own room within Step,” the Step 13 Web site continued. “This builds self-esteem, and men new to the program have positive role models all around them.

”Coté receives requests from addicted men from all walks of life. “One size does not fit all, we had a veterinarian, engineers, and folks who are illiterate and haven’t completed high school. They have to sign an agreement to commit to their education. If they are illiterate, they take remedial classes at Emily Griffith Opportunity School and get their GED. They all go through a basic computer class in our in-house computer lab and they must take a course called ‘Your Credit Counts.’ Most of these guys’ credit is shot so they take the course to see where they’re at and start rebuilding their credit.”

Eye doctors and physicians volunteer their time at the in-house clinics. “Our dental clinic will open any day now,” Coté promised. Their spiritual health is treated in the chapel donated by the Anschutz Foundation.

The average time to complete the program is 18 months. “They have everything they need to make it,” Coté said. Step 13 has an impressive 38% success rate.

Step 13 relies on outside opportunities such as Dunafon Castle to employ the residents and maintains several in-house businesses, including DetailWorks, their car and truck detailing business; and LogoWorks,a silkscreen/embroidery/engraving service run by Coté’s once-addicted daughter.

“In 1989 I sent a guy, Gilbert, to the auto auction to help wash cars,” Coté recalled. “He ended up running the place!”

There is a new crisis that Step 13 is focusing on: the aging resident. “We are slowly accumulating older men with medical problems. They have cancer, emphysema, or arthritis,” Coté said. “The street predators prey on them because they’re not thinking as well as they used to. They need help now.”

Coté and Step 13’s work has not gone unnoticed. “President George Bush recognized our ‘generosity and willingness to serve others’ by making us his 540th ‘Daily Point of Light.’” Step 13 continued. “That was a tremendous honor, as was the ‘Achievement Against the Odds Award’ from The National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise … Bob Coté, was one of seven people who received the award … [and] George Magazine voted him ‘One of America’s Most Virtuous Citizens.’”

And to this day, Step 13 has not accepted any federal, state or local assistance. “We are 52% self-sufficient,” Coté continued. “And working on increasing that number. The rest comes from donations (see step13.org). We don’t telemarket.” He is an outspoken advocate against welfare and Social Security disability payments, suggesting that it is killing addicts on the installment plan.

Coté is proud of the lives he and Step 13 have changed for the better, including his own. “Give them ‘Real change, not spare change™.’ ”

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