Jesse Harvey, a well-known Maine recovery advocate and founder of the Church of Safe Injection, died Monday of a possible overdose. He was 28.

Jesse Harvey talks to visitors outside Journey House Sober Living’s newest house on Oak Street in Lewiston in August 2019. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Harvey, who founded Journey House Recovery and dedicated his life to helping others, struggled to help himself. He was found dead in his home on Douglas Street in Portland.

Portland police are investigating Harvey’s death. Lt. Robert Martin said Tuesday that Harvey died of a “possible overdose because of drug paraphernalia that was present.” Martin said Portland has recorded 20 overdose deaths this year.

The state Medical Examiner’s Office is conducting an autopsy to determine Harvey’s cause of death.

Harvey was a vocal advocate for needle exchange programs, as well as safe-injection sites to prevent fatal overdoses. He created  a mobile operation to distribute sterile needles, which he called the Church of Safe Injection. Journey House Recovery, which he founded in December of 2016, now operates four recovery homes in Maine for low-income people.

Ashley Reny, executive director of Journey House Recovery, said Tuesday that Harvey helped a lot of people in Maine and that his death has shocked many in the recovery community.


“Jesse was a person who did a lot of good things while he was sober,” Reny said. “We are very grateful for the work he did to put so many projects into motion. It’s been a little over a year since any of us have really worked with him on anything. We are just really sad to see his life come to an end at such a young age. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

The board of directors for Journey House Recovery released a statement Tuesday saying Harvey established Journey House as one of the first recovery residences in Maine to accept people using medication assisted treatment.

“Jesse was devoted to the philosophy of harm reduction and worked passionately for the rights of people who use drugs, as well as those in recovery from substance use disorder,” the statement said. “… He sat on numerous boards and was a proud member of the Rotary Club. Jesse helped hundreds of people with his acceptance and love. Jesse’s commitment and passion will be greatly missed by many in the community.”

Harvey founded the Church of Safe Injection in 2018 after being disheartened by the lack of needle exchange programs in the state. A 2019 Press Herald news story said Harvey’s goal in starting the program was to reduce diseases caused by sharing needles, and to provide drug users with sterile syringes and the overdose reversing drug Narcan until they are able to get into a recovery program. The nonprofit’s needle exchange programs operate in Biddeford, Portland, Lewiston, South Paris, Rumford and Dixfield.

Jesse Harvey, left, founder of the Church of Safe Injection, waits for clients to give his harm-reduction kits to near Kennedy Park in Lewiston in October 2018. Harvey provided clients a safe place to dispose of used needles, as well as Naloxone, clean needles and other items seen as harm reduction tools in the recovery community. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Kari Morissette of Portland, executive director of the Church of Safe Injection, said Harvey had a light, charisma and confidence that drew people in.

“In his work, Jesse was serious, dedicated and passionate. In his life, he was this big crazy, nutty goofball that just always loved making jokes and making people laugh,” Morissette said. “It’s a huge loss for the harm reduction community as a whole. Everybody knew of Jesse. He changed a lot of people’s perceptions on a lot of things and molded the way the people approach harm reduction in this area.”


Niki Curtis, a staff writer for Journey Magazine, said Harvey was an outspoken advocate who understood suffering and bucked the system so that others wouldn’t suffer in the ways he did.

“How could you fault a heart that just wants other people to not suffer? A lot of people were like don’t rock the boat,” Curtis remarked. “He just challenged them. He had this level of bravery and courage and he just went for it. He didn’t like to sit behind the red tape of trying to make change. He got in the field and made change. That’s huge. I wish there were more people that did that.”

Erik Lamoreau, a friend and manager of the recovery center at Aroostook Mental Health Center, echoed Curtis. He said Harvey was a man of action and a voice for many in the recovery community.

“He was an image of struggle. He was the truth,” Lamoreau wrote on Facebook. “He spoke for all the oppressed, criminal justice reform, harm reduction, things no one else would even dare to say in public level. This man, Jesse, had courage that some of us only dream of having. To me, he is a hero. I’ll miss our phone calls. I’ll miss my friend.”

In addition to helping found Journey House Recovery, Harvey was also a founder of the Portland Overdose Prevention Society.

Harvey lived in Portland and was well-known in southern Maine’s recovery community. Friends say he maintained long periods of sobriety, but struggled in recent months with his own addiction and a relapse. He was arrested twice in July and charged with assault, OUI and drug possession.


Harvey is survived by his mother, Catherine Nash and younger brother, Jonah Harvey, both of Holden, Massachusetts.

Nash remembered her son Tuesday as a brilliant beacon of light and love to everyone around him. She said he inspired so many in his short life.

“He personified love and bestowed unity on everyone he met especially the disenfranchised and those despised by the system,” his mother said, breaking down in tears. “He was a brilliant man. As a son, his gifts are his own. I always said I can take credit for nothing. His gifts and talents, his love and compassion totally came from him. Words cannot express my pride in his work. He was the one that inspired so many. He was the one whose love gained so many people, who are just actors now in the trenches. He was the one who mobilized all that. His legacy will live on.”

A celebration of his life will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 19 on the Eastern Promenade in Portland.

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