Houston Family Living in Storage Unit Loses Custody of Kids

living in storage unit

Charlomane and Prince Leonard were doing just fine before the recession hit. But for the past three years, they've been forced to live with their six children in a self-storage unit in northeast Houston -- a situation that they reluctantly accepted until Texas's Child Protective Services came in and took custody of their children this week.

The storage unit that the Leonards have been living in is fully equipped with air conditioning, beds, a refrigerator, microwave, a tub and two computers. What they don't have is running water -- which was part of the reason the CPS came in and removed the children, ages 2 to 12. They kept their water in a 55-gallon drum that Prince Leonard refilled daily. They fill jugs of drinking water at grocery stores and use a "compost" toilet, Charlomane Leonard said.

She said the CPS visit was unexpected. The child protection authorities made their first visit and took the children on the same day, said her husband. She is still nursing her youngest. The children were placed with their maternal grandparents and the Leonards are permitted to see them just six hours a week. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 16 to determine the family's fate.

The only crime Charlomane Leonard is guilty of, she says, is having fallen on hard times. Her husband recently graduated from community college and has been certified as a welder. And before the recession hit, they earned enough money to buy 50 acres in Liberty County, on which they hope to build a house. "We're waiting on a USDA loan," she said.

The family's fortunes turned when Prince Leonard was injured on the job and unable to work for a period. They stopped being able to afford their rent and took to living in their pickup truck for a while, parking in the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital overnight under the watchful eye of security guards. They moved into a Star of Hope shelter for three months before moving into the storage unit where they were already storing some of their belongings.

The Leonards have transformed the storage space into a home -- a place that is nicer and safer than the rodent- and crime-infested motels and apartments the family had lived in before discovering the storage facility as a way to weather the recession. Charlomane Leonard and the children plant a garden every summer on land behind the storage facility, harvesting squash, tomatoes, okra and peppers. The older children are enrolled at Texas Connections Academy, a Houston Independent School District on-line school. One of their computers is on loan from the school and none of their children has ever gotten less than a B in school, the couple said.

"We are not criminals, drug abusers or child abusers, just plain old loving parents who are working hard to secure a future for our children," Charlomane Leonard said.

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Halona Y. Black

CPS should be ashamed of themselves. I don't understand the concept of taking children away from parents. It seems much more logical to see what can be done to keep the family together. The children were loved, fed, and protected. I would love for the family to write a book on how they were able to live well on very little. We could all learn something from them.

July 29 2011 at 10:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are many facets to this story. Most important is the well-being of the children.

My question is "have Mr. & Mrs. Leonard taken measures to not have child #7?" According to Mr. Leonard, their only crime is being poor. No, being poor is not a crime. Neither is making bad choices, unfortunately. But there is no reason for anyone in this country to have more children than they can afford to raise.

As for those of you saying that CPS overstepped - what would you have been asking if an electrical fire had started in the storage shed and all the children were horribly burned or killed? How about if the children contracted a disease from living in such close proximity without ready access to running water?

July 24 2011 at 2:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

makes me sick---go find some real abused kids !!.... they should put this family on that show that builds them houses after going on a vacation ( cann't remember the shows name -i usally don't watch it ) ....wow give this family a break---i would do the same damn thing if i had to......

July 21 2011 at 12:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And yes I did not use spell check. Sorry I was pissed just reading the article.

July 15 2011 at 12:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

CPS ! Where were they when that boy was kept in a cage and then killed? This is a family working together to stay together , please does anyone know what the CPS was trying to accomplish other than creating hurt , and even more burdens on the family . like others have said , why 6 hours week ? It has always amazed me that there are so many people in child services and guarian adlitems that make decisions for children , yet have no chidren of their own . that a law they should enact , only those with children should be allowed to make choices for those of us with children.

July 15 2011 at 12:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a sad story the article said they had no water and no toilet if they had those two things would they have taken the kids away?...........I hope they get their kids back soon.

July 14 2011 at 8:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Big Government or what...!!! omg..return the children to the parents!!

July 14 2011 at 3:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to SL's comment

Local community activist is arranging for a home with 2mo free rent for the family, CPS has already said soon as they're notified they'll check new residence & then reunite family asap.
CPS took custody since this storage shed (which it is, not a "unit") family's lived in for 3yrs is by city ordinance, considered dangerous & against the law. Storage facility is a huge version of one found in the backyard, no running water & electricity that powered window air conditioner, microwave, etc was supplied by running industrial type extension cords to an outlet on industrial bldg next door. This storage facility sits on edge of a closed business parking lot.

Reason family doesn't qualify for aid/assistance is the 50acres they own in Liberty County is worth between $135,000 to $300,000. Property value in Liberty County between $2700.00 to $6000.00 acre,
depending on if it's developed or not. Family should've purchased an old trailer or something & moved onto it, or maybe sold 5-10acres to help subsidize themselves.

I too was intially outraged by CPS until I found out more of the facts & saw a photo of the storage building this family lived in & learned how much that 50acres was worth.

July 14 2011 at 8:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I see everyone blaming the CPS workers they are just doing they job. I am not saying that taking their kids and only allowing the parents 6 hours a day is the right thing to do either. But my wife is a CPS worker and there is a lot that goes on that people don't understand or care to understand. All you see is the CPS workers being the bad people. But you want to bitch and complain no matter what the the situation is and most people that bitch are the same people that would not do anything to help.

July 13 2011 at 9:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Sandra Wilson

There seems to be no end to the CPS saga, this agency should be helping families get on the feet, not punnishing parents who are doing the best they can. Yes, and shame on the relatives that were not helping.

July 13 2011 at 5:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lady T

Shameful that this is happening to good people all around this rich country !!!!! My prayers go out to Prince and Charlomane Leonard and their six wonderful children. Keep your head up!! !!!!! God will make a way where there seems to be no way......

July 13 2011 at 2:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Lady T's comment

Rich country? Turn on the news.....we are in unbelievalbe debt with no end in sight

July 14 2011 at 6:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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