From Living on the Streets to Cleaning Them Up

Ryan Dattilo was a drug addict living on the streets in Cincinnati. Now he works in the city as a peer mentor at the treatment center that saved his life.

“I just needed someone to believe in me — to believe I wasn’t too far gone for help.”

Video Transcript

Meet Ryan: Mentor and Ambassador

Cincinnati, OH

Ryan Dattilo: So this is Second and Broadway. This used to be our bridge. This used to be home. Initially, I was born in the suburbs in a nice part of town. My drug addiction led me to the streets of Cincinnati. I was living underneath bridges and overpasses and panhandling, eating out of garbage cans — whatever it took just to survive, to continue to feed my drug addiction. 

That’s where I would fly my sign every day. That was my corner. If I’m to sit on this curb right here and hold my sign, “Hungry, homeless, please help,” people will walk right by you like you are a planter. They will not turn their head. They will not greet you. They will not acknowledge you. After you’ve been ignored for so long, when somebody comes with a gesture of here’s just a clean T-shirt, I mean that really starts the… people do care. You do matter. Your life is important.

Ryan works for C.A.T. House, a center for addiction treatment. 

I mean, I had made a decision. I was tired of the life. I mean, I just needed somebody to believe in me, to believe that I wasn’t too far gone for help, and then help me complete the steps. And they paid my $20 to get me into the C.A.T. House and gave me the ride to the C.A.T. House, but more than that, they believed in me. 

Ryan advises critical members of the community on the opioid crisis.

So the Newtown Chief of Police says, “Ryan was insightful, powerful, action-oriented, and inspirational, an honor to be a part of this with him.” And that’s crazy because I’m not the type of person to interact with police. I’m the type of person that would run and hide from police.

He volunteers at the center where he received treatment.

This place saved my life. If it weren’t for them, I’d probably still be where we were earlier, if not dead. So I am a peer mentor. I go in there and I’m like, “Look, I get it. I did drugs. My life was unmanageable. Today I’m successful. You can have this.” Now I’m able to work here in the city, and I’m very proud of that. It’s very powerful for me to be able to give back now and to be a part of our city in a productive way instead of just being a menace to society out here.

That’s where I would fly my sign every day. That was my corner.

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