East Houston Storage Loft Living: Lose the Kids

Teevee news cameras provide a glimpse of the open-plan home fashioned out of a 12-ft.-by-25-ft. RV and boat storage unit in a long shed across the street from the I-10 East Golden Corral Restaurant. Prince and Charlomane Leonard have their home of 3 years all to themselves now, but they’re not happy about it: After a single 3-hour visit from Harris County’s Child Protective Services last month, the couple’s 6 children, ages 2 through 12, were removed from the home on McNair St. near Sheffield Blvd., which was declared an “unsafe environment” for the children. The Chronicle‘s Anita Hassan reports the Leonards had been planning to build a home for themselves on land they own in Liberty County, but couldn’t get a loan.


Prince Leonard built all the shelving and a makeshift loft. There’s a refrigerator, an air conditioner and wood-burning heater. On land behind the storage units, the children and their mother plant a garden every summer, harvesting squash, tomatoes, okra and peppers.

Lacking in the shed is running water, but Prince Leonard fills a 55-gallon barrel daily from a spigot at the end of the storage lot so the family can take baths. They fill jugs of drinking water at grocery stores and use a “compost” toilet, Charlomane Leonard said.

The older children are enrolled at Texas Connections Academy, a Houston Independent School District online school. The shed is also furnished with two computers, one on loan from the school, Charlomane Leonard said.

Photos: KHOU

26 Comment

  • They plant a garden. I don’t know. With stories like this (warning- sad and graphic): http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/07/03/greene.boy.missing/index.html out there, I wonder if CPS can ever get it right.

  • Anyone who has lived in a third world country knows how rich this family is. Clean water to drink and bathe in Daily, fresh home-grown food, COMPUTERS, for crying out loud, EDUCATION!!! What is wrong with CPS?

  • I want one! Should I search through MLS?

  • I think a child can learn a lot about self-sufficiency and creativity from such an experience. Plus the family probably has got to be more bonded than your average suburban commuter clan. But now CPS takes them away and shows them what’s it’s like to be foster children, and be safe from those bad parents…

  • Thanks for bringing tears to my eyes, Heights. Their home seems structurally sound, although i would be worried about the wiring, with all of the appliances they are running in this unit. I know a few people who were raised in environments much worse than these folks and they turned out fine. My father did not have running water in his house growing up.

  • wasn’t this how most everyone was raised 80 years ago?

    i just don’t understand the desire to tear a family apart rather than provide assistance to the parents. i suppose there’s more to the story but being poor isn’t a crime in and of itself.

  • wow, I’m in the same boat with sally01, thank Heights :( so, so sad

    Not to deviate from the Houston issue too much but I think the case worker initially involved with the Choate case has either *A LOT* of explaining to do and/or effectively be charged with some variation of child abuse/neglect (accomplice, etc).

    man, what a buzz-kill for an otherwise good day :(

  • Except for the lack of running water and windows, it’s not much different from living in a trailer. Somebody donate a mobile home to this family!

  • Obviously at first glance this does seem like a case of CPS going too far too fast but I suspect there is a lot we do not know about the situation from the story as printed.

    How much are they spending per month on a covered RV storage which they could be spending on an apartment? Why did they buy land and then sit on it for years rather than spend that money on rent? Why would you think you could qualify for a home building loan when you live in a storage unit? And whilst obviously the size of your family is a personal decision I’m pretty sure most of us would stop after we had been forced to live in a storage shed.

    I do absolutely agree that everything should be being done to keep the family together. Its worth noting that the kids are staying with the grandparents currently so they’re not exactly lost in the hellhole of the foster system. Of course the fact that there are grandparents who apparently have a suitable home for the kids raises yet more questions.

  • I know of a family that has been reported to CPS numerous times for physical and mental abuse of their kids. CPS shows up and the kids (in front of their parents) deny any problems (cuz they’ll be beaten by their parents when CPS leaves). CPS has done nada for these kids.

    At least with this family in the news, the parents were loving, if not poor. The part that is especially egregious is that the parents are “allowed” six hours supervisied visitation weekly of their kids. Like they were abusers or a danger to their kids.


  • I have a bunch of fourplexes out in this area. It’s bizzaro world out there. If anyone is looking for ‘starter’ rental property, you can get quite a bit of bang for your buck (fourplexes for the low 100’s that are not that old, central air, good rents, etc.)
    But as many have said, this family, while not typical, seems to have cared for their kids and been trying to do the right thing. Sad stuff…

  • And yet CPS left the Yates children in the care of their two loving parents and their “safe environment.” No one seems to have offered an alternative to CPS which is why I won’t support any of the various “child advocacy” organizations in this state. Perhaps if the state shut down CPS someone would find offer an alternative to CPS and to the equally abominable “ad litem” system which also does little to actually protect children and TYC which of course held no one accountable for the sexual assault and rape of quite a few teenage boys held in their facilities. Texas is not “child-friendly” and CPS is proof positive that it is not.

  • I know artists who live in warehouses much like this. Some of them are families, and no one kidnaps their childrens.

  • So living in a cramped storage space with no room for anyone, no windows, no fire extinguishers, no smoke alarms, no running water and one exit that looks like it would be hard for the kids to open is safe for children? With the metal walls, 2 king size beds and wood shelving this thing is a fire accident waiting to happen.

    Oh lord imagine if one of the children did die in a fire and it came out that CPS had shown up and did not remove the children. No one would be outraged. No one would claim CPS had not done their job. Right.

    Why did they buy land in liberty before finding proper living conditions? They have 6 kids and they thought it would be a good idea to buy land before they had a permanent home? Also the kids are with their maternal grandparents. The children will be given back their children if they can find proper living arrangements. And if they can’t then they live will live with the grandparents.

  • From Shirley:

    I applaud this family’s perseverance to “Keep It Moving.” Under the circumstances these parents are providing the best care possible for their children – Although, the situation is not ideal it most certainly beats living in a rat invested hotel/motel or dangerous shelter. These children are not suffering from abuse or neglect – they are being cared for by two parents who obviously love them – they are not hungry (not with that garden) and for Christ’s sake they have computers and are doing very well in school. CPS has not only removed these children from their loving parents but they have also restricted their (the parents) visitation, WHY? What are they guilty of? This is ludicrous – Rather than ripping these children from the arms of their parents CPS could have and indeed should have reached out to assist this struggling family.

    I agree with Joel, “being poor isn’t a crime in and of itself,” not yet anyway!


  • Glad to see that everyone is taking a Chron piece written with only one side of the story and running with it to immediately pillory CPS. As Kevin said, if one of these kids died because of the conditions the family are living in then we would all be pillorying them for that too. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. At the very least we should wait until we have all the facts before rushing to judgement.

  • Matt Mystery,
    Do you volunteer as an ad litem? If not, shut the f*ck up. It’s easy to criticize and it’s hard to solve the problem, especially with very limited resources. For the most part, everyone in the system cares, works hard and does a great job.

  • It’s a little ironic that in the same comment stream (and in one case in the same comment) that we are stating that the authorities should never just take the family’s word for it that everything is OK we are simulatneously taking the family’s word for it that everything is OK. Its great being an armchair expert isn’t it!

  • Are CPS caseworkers suppose to pay families financial assistance out of their own pockets? That’s not possible on a 29,000 a year job with your own family to take care of and 30-47 cases on your caseload. CPS doesn’t have the money to pay these people to take care of their kids. Parents are supposed to do that. When they can’t assistance is found but it takes time. Why dont you open your pocketbook or VOTE for bills that support low income assistance. Oh wait Texans hate helping people yet villify those that do it for a living with whatever means they have.

    You live in a metal building with extension cords running from how many outlets? I dont think these things are wired for living. How is a 2 year old going to escape a fire out of that? Do the parents work, are they looking for work or are they deemed to live in a storage unit (no considered safe housing by any law or policy) for the rest of their lives?

    The kids aren’t “ripped from their families” they are living with grandparents. It sounds like about 100 bad decisions these parents made. There is always another side of the story. Makes me wonder what is making this family so destitute and making unsound judgements?

    It is not a crime to be poor and you don’t get your kids removed because you are poor. But CPS has to follow the law and in EVERY CPS case a judge signs off on it. When enough armchair quarter backs who have never witnessed this type of stuff or lifted a finger throw up enough of a hooha the judge will order the kids back. Then one kid will die and people will go OMG FIRE CPS.

    Maybe it is the people in this state that don’t think child and the poor are important enough to support that are the problem.

    And I am sure every single post here is someone who has been a foster or adoptive parent to a child in custody in the US. Or at least I am sure they donate some of their time in child welfare. The rate of abuse in this state is staggering. Everyone is complicit. If that makes you scared or angry figure out why and do something about it.

  • I wonder what the basis is for CPS’s decision to remove the children. “It’s a shed!!1!” or “it’s weird” are not reasons.

    Before I judge, I’d like to know the specific reason. Is it a fire hazard? Electrical? Is there human waste littering the house? Are the kids underweight?

    Is there some minimum square foot per person requirement? If so, what is that threshold and how does it compare to this shed?

  • Great post, Cathryn!

  • Heard a pretty in depth and interesting radio interview w/the father today. Apparently community activist Quanel X stepped up, and had some choice words about CPS.

    There is a bank account now set up to help the family with donations – the radio host donated $5,000 of his own money to set an example…

  • From Bill Burge:
    Matt Mystery,
    Do you volunteer as an ad litem? If not, shut the f*ck up. It’s easy to criticize and it’s hard to solve the problem, especially with very limited resources. For the most part, everyone in the system cares, works hard and does a great job.


    CPS speaks for itself. As do its defenders. But what speaks loudest are the victims of CPS. Particularly bthe Yates children. Although they certainly aren’t the only ones. With regard to the plight of the growing number of families like the Lewonards who are victims of the economy more than themselves perhaps if the city and county addressed the problem of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing CPS wouldn’t have to remove children because of “unsafe” conditions. Which include cars, vans, and freeway underpasses. Of course the city is more concerned with historic districts and banning hirises from residential neighborhoods. The mayor is anyway.

  • Wow, I think that CPS would’ve taken my grandfather and all his brothers into foster care if they’d been around back then. And probably another 98% of children living in rural east Texas.

    This is just wrong. Reminds me of the King of the Hill pilot episode.

  • Thanks, Cathryn, for your input.I can’t imagine doing the job that CPS workers do.Quanel needs to shut his mouth, and pay his child support.