Karey Ann Leet sits in in her living room/bedroom in Lewiston last month. Notified she will be losing her Section 8 housing subsidy voucher because she makes too much money, she is looking to combine households with her adult children in order to make ends meet. She works seven days a week, and says she currently puts half her income toward rent for her and her husband. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Karey Ann Leet has struggled to turn her life around after 30 years of drinking and drug use. Now, after two years of living in subsidized housing, she and her husband are earning too much to stay on the program. She worries about this next challenge, but also sees it as another step forward and away from addiction.

“I wanted so badly to be a grown-up. I wasted so much of my life,” Leet said. “The goal was to get off food stamps, to get off Section 8, to get off all this.”

Leet has been in recovery for almost four years.

She ran away from her childhood home in Rumford when she was 13. “There wasn’t anything too awful; I didn’t want to live by their rules.”

Leet drifted to the Lewiston-Auburn area, where she met her current husband when they were both homeless teens.

They went their separate ways for about 20 years but followed similar paths, getting into trouble with the law and developing drug addictions. “I was a raging drunk from the time I was 16 ’til my mid-20s,” Leet said.


Leet had her first child when she was 19. She dropped her daughter off at her parents’ house one morning while she was still drunk, and her parents decided enough was enough.

“They said I had to go to detox,” Leet said. “I went to detox. An hour later, they called the state on me.” After she got out of detox, she returned to her parents’ home to collect her daughter to find the house locked. “I had a shovel in my hands when the cops showed up.”

Leet continued to drink after losing her daughter to her parents and moved on to using harder drugs. She had two more children, who were each taken away and put into foster care by the time they were 3 and 5 years old, and adopted by another couple.

“I started stealing to support my own habit because you don’t make enough money working to support a drug habit.”

She had a challenging relationship with a man that led to a lot of drugs and crimes. Her boyfriend, with whom she used drugs and shoplifted, would periodically get sent to prison.

Leet would get sober, and start to pull her life together. “I had apartments, jobs. I’d sober up for a couple of years,” Leet said. “Then my ex would get out of prison, and we’d be right back at it.”


At one point in their tumultuous relationship they lived in a camper on her employer’s property, where they cooked meth. After a visiting friend was arrested for having a meth lab in his car, her landlord kicked her out and Leet lost her job as a personal support specialist.

“I ended up on the streets because my addiction was more important than anything else.”

She was an adult, homeless again, in Bangor. “My spot was at a church. They had a little awning over a doorway,” Leet said. “If it rained, I didn’t sleep because I’d have to stand up against the wall.”

She met a fellow addict, and they turned his house into a “trap house” to use drugs.

“The last time I got arrested, my youngest was out on the streets and he wasn’t doing well,” Leet said. “I called the trap house (from jail) and they told me that my son was shooting up. I’m in jail. There’s absolutely nothing I can do.”

It was at that moment that Leet decided that something had to change. “If I had stayed (using drugs), my son would have stayed.”


Newly sober, she reconnected with her now-husband in August 2020.

“I was like: ‘I’m a junkie, I’m in rehab, I’m in a sober house and I have nothing.’ He was like: ‘I’m a junkie. I’m on probation and I live with my dad,’” Leet laughs at this memory. “We have built from the bottom.”

They got married in May 2021 at Riverside Cemetery next to a tomb where they had spent time together as homeless teenagers.

The year before they got married, Leet and her soon-to-be-husband got a room at a Lewiston rooming house, where many of the other tenants were using hard drugs. There were needles hidden in the toilets. It proved too challenging for Leet.

She relapsed for three months.

Karey Anne Leet helps local veteran Donald Smith earlier this year in his home in Lewiston. Leet is back working as a personal support specialist after a lifetime of drug addiction. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

One day she walked into her court-ordered counseling session and announced that she was using heroin. Her therapist helped her get back on Suboxone the next day.


Meanwhile, desperate to get away from the rooming house, she had applied for a Section 8 voucher for housing assistance.

Leet and her husband moved into their first of three Section 8 apartments in December 2020.

Now, Leet holds down multiple jobs and is back working as a personal support specialist, which she adores.

“From the moment I get up to the time I go to bed, I’m busy. I work seven days a week,” she said.

She keeps a detailed handwritten spreadsheet of their household income and expenses, projected out several months in advance.

“We calculate every single penny that goes out, it’s asinine,” she said.


They have been working to get their lives back on track, away from the daily temptation of drugs in their home. Even though she says they pay half their income to rent, she says they are making too much money to keep their Section 8 apartment.

“Full rent is now our responsibility and in six months we’re done,” she said.

Leet spins it into a positive: “We lose our voucher, but it goes to another family. Someone else in need.”

But she is worried about moving forward with no guardrails — there doesn’t seem to be any navigational system.

“Just a letter saying ‘You’re officially an adult,’” Leet said, referring to the news she would soon lose her Section 8 voucher.

She considers asking for advice on Facebook from other people who have exited public assistance programs. “I don’t like being blind.”


Her oldest son lives around the corner from them in Lewiston with his girlfriend. “The kids are struggling to pay rent, pay their bills, and have money left over.”

Leet is looking for a four-bedroom apartment for six people, hoping that if they combine incomes, and share bills, they will have enough to survive.

She knows how lucky she is that she was able to reconnect with her children: “I missed out on so much of their lives. They’re not going to want to live with Mom forever. I want to embrace that.”

She’s scared of losing everything she has worked so hard for. Her newest fear is losing her MaineCare subsidy as their income goes up.

“We’re all on medications. We each have at least three prescriptions.”

“We’re just living,” Leet said. “We’re going to work to pay bills. That’s it.”

Her advice for those who have struggled like her: “If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, reach out to someone, anyone, even me. Sober life has truly been amazing and now there is a light where all the darkness used to be.”

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