PORTLAND – Steven Huston, a longtime advocate for Preble Street Homeless Voices for Justice, fought tirelessly for people struggling with homelessness, poverty and addiction.
Huston, like those for whom he battled, struggled with alcoholism and chronic homelessness.
He died unexpectedly Thursday in his recliner at his apartment on Wilmot Street in Portland. He was 53.
Huston grew up in South Portland and Scarborough, the middle of three children. His mother was an artist who was active in local politics. His father was an alcoholic. At age 12, Huston abruptly left his home and hitchhiked to Texas to live with his father.
"I think that was a theme in his life," said his brother, Richard Huston, of Auburn, Calif. "He didn’t choose the easy path. He struggled quite a bit."
Huston was homeless on and off for the past 40 years or so. At points in his life, he lived on the streets of Portland and was a familiar presence in the city’s shelters and soup kitchens. Other times, he stayed sober, held a job and maintained an apartment.
"His life was a mixed bag," his brother said. "It was sad and unfortunate to see such a talented guy not always use all of his resources in a productive way. He could be the best con going, or be doing the best sort of things."
Huston spent most of the past 15 years as an advocate for Portland’s homeless community. He was well known at Preble Street, first as a client and later as a leader of its Homeless Voices for Justice campaign, advocating for change.
In June, Huston wrote a letter to the editor of the Portland Press Herald asking Mainers to " work on solutions to today’s problems: the lack of affordable housing and livable wages, unemployment, food insecurity and the rise in people living in poverty."
He led a successful campaign to pass legislation against hate violence. The bill makes homelessness a factor to be considered by judges and district attorneys when determining sentences. Last year, Huston also spoke at the State House in Augusta against cuts in health care.
"He was fearless in his passion for social justice," Donna Yellen, director of advocacy at Preble Street, said of Huston. "He cared so much about people going through difficult times because he knew what it was like. He would listen to them and turn that into action. I would watch him in action with policy makers, elected leaders and executive directors and he could hold his own."
Several local and state leaders contacted Preble Street this week to express their condolences and appreciation for Huston’s work.
"His life work was truly God’s work," former Gov. John Baldacci said in an email to Preble Street. "He blessed many families with his hard work and sacrifice; for others, not himself."
Steve Wessler, a human rights educator, trainer and advocate, expressed his admiration and respect for Huston in another email.
"I think of Steve not for the personal struggles he faced in his life, which I know were significant. Rather I think of Steve as the fierce, effective, and passionate advocate for the human rights of homeless people," Wessler wrote.
Huston was also remembered Tuesday as a talented artist. He was a regular at the farmers markets at Deering Oaks and Monument Square in Portland, where he sold his paintings on slate.
Huston loved the outdoors and fishing. He spent some time this summer fishing with his son, Steve Huston Jr., who lives in Moorhead, Minn.
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.