When Mark Perry moved to Portland about six years ago, he was in recovery from alcoholism and immediately started helping others in the city, including those battling substance use disorder and the homeless.

“He walked 10 miles a day helping the homeless, taking them places and getting them help,” said his mother, Susan Lonergan Perry. “He told me one time, ‘Mom, my heart is in Portland. I belong there, and they need me.'”

Mark Perry was a fixture in Portland’s recovery community. Photo courtesy of Susan Lonergan Young

Perry, 48, died Thursday at the Clarion Hotel in Portland, where he had been staying while undergoing radiation treatment for lung cancer. Perry’s mother – who was staying in the hotel room with her son – said he went to sleep and never woke up. He was diagnosed with cancer in late December, she said.

Susan Perry said that after her son – originally from Middleton, Massachusetts – completed a treatment program in Plymouth, New Hampshire, he moved to Portland. He lived first in a recovery house, then got his own apartment.

“He struggled for years, but he had really gotten his life back together,” his mother said. “Mark was a special person.”

As his recovery continued, Perry was hired by Amistad, a social service nonprofit in Portland, about five years ago.

Brian Townsend, executive director of Amistad, said Perry maintained “rounds” that he would walk every day, paying attention to people in need. He often stopped at the same places, like Becky’s Diner or Speckled Ax coffee shop.

“We created a program built around what he was doing. He was a conduit. Everyone knew him,” Townsend said. “It’s hard to find people who can do outreach well, but Mark was a natural at it.”

Townsend said that because he had undergone recovery, Perry had a “real understanding” of how people were struggling. But at the same time, Perry never assumed that his personal experiences and solutions were the same as what might work for others, he said.

“If people were coming out of the jail or hospital and wanted to try something different, he was there for them,” Townsend said. “He was a big part of everything we do.”

Townsend said the peer outreach program that Mark Perry founded and operated will continue, but he’s not sure yet what exactly it will look like. Perry was unique and will be difficult to replace.

“His death is a big loss for everyone,” Townsend said.

Perry patrolled Portland at a time when the opioid crisis reached a peak. Townsend said Perry recognized that opioid use disorder was different than alcoholism, and that the solutions might be different.

A record 417 people died of drug overdoses in Maine in 2017, declining to 356 deaths in 2018, according to state statistics.

In Portland, there were 44 drug overdose deaths in 2018.

Perry also worked closely with Amy Geren, program director at Portland Downtown, a nonprofit that works to improve downtown safety and cleanliness.

“If I had gotten a billion-dollar grant, I would have cloned Mark,” Geren said. “If people were having problems, he knew how to talk to them and get them help. He was a resource, an alternative to calling the police or going to the hospital.”

In addition to his parents, survivors include daughters Elizabeth and Meaghan Perry of Middleton; sister, Denise Perry; and brother, Steven Perry. A service will be held 11 a.m. on Tuesday at A.T. Hutchins Funeral Home, 660 Brighton Ave., Portland.

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