Bob Cot

A Bum Rap

Cote's been-down-and-on-the-street resume has left him free to mock less-strict recovery programs and the traditional "victim" view of bums, rather than just go quietly about his libertarian brand of reform. "I am a very controversial person," he boasts. Want to know why you see the same beggars with the cardboard signs standing on Speer Boulevard? Because they're making enough money to make it worth their while. Give a guy a free lunch with no expectation of getting any commitment to change in return, he says, and that's exactly what you'll get--nothing.

For years Cote worked eighteen-hour days and slept on a cot in a tiny room off his office. He now lives in his own home and keeps fairly regular hours, but he still gets reminders that there's a price to pay for his past transgressions and lost years.

Married at seventeen and divorced five years later with two children, Cote admits he wasn't much of a father. In 1987 he received a call from his former mother-in-law telling him that his eldest daughter, Shelly, was using cocaine. Within hours Cote caught a flight out of Denver and then drove to a posh Detroit suburb where Shelly was staying with her boyfriend. He stuffed her belongings in a trash bag and hauled her back to Denver.

Applying the same uncompromising tough-love approach he used with Step 13's men was difficult--"You've got to be careful with blood," Cote says--and Shelly backslid several times (thanks in part to Cote's gift of a credit card: The card was in his name, and the first bill included a $200 charge to a Vail liquor store. "How stupid can you be?" Cote remembers asking her).

Eventually, though, Shelly came clean; today she lives in Denver and works closely with Cote as operations manager at Step 13. "I had a lesson to learn," she says simply of her recovery.

Even though Cote seems to be riding a rising tide of success, the job of trying to bring religion and sobriety to Denver's homeless is in some ways getting harder, and Cote can sound nostalgic for the past. "The bums and hobos then were a group of great, great guys," he says. "They were appreciative of what you did for them, and there was a camaraderie. Now it's all 'me' instead of 'we.' Today your drunks are younger. They're self-centered, and they don't have a mutual respect for each other. The happy-go-lucky skid-row bum--the clown--is gone."

Cote, however, is here to stay. He claims he was invited to open a string of Step 13 rehab centers across the country but is quite content to remain in Denver. "Ten years from now, I plan to be right here," he says. "God willing.

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Someone at Westword should do some digging and find out what the cause of Shelly Cote's death was. Back in 2008 she was still backsliding.