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How off-season residents at Hampton Beach impact town services

By Nick B. Reid

Seacoast Sunday, October 27, 2013

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Hampton Beach laundromat
The Hampton Beach laundromat is busy all summer but as the
weather turns cold, locals have it to themselves. [Deb Cram photo]

HAMPTON BEACH — The time is gone when the cottages on Hampton Beach were essentially boarded up shortly after Labor Day, according to Deputy Police Chief Rich Sawyer. Now, with a slowly recovering economy, there’s a transient population that each year jumps at the opportunity to take up temporary housing there for cheap.

The unique phenomenon of hundreds of low-income residences becoming vacant all at once presents a challenge for the town, in policing, in education costs and to the organizations that help transient families find a permanent home.

Sawyer said it’s simple probability that when a large group moves in, although it may be mostly good people, there’s going to be some bad that comes along with it.

“When people are trying to find some place to just get away — for legitimate or illegitimate means — they’ll find a place where people go to that has open rooms,” Sawyer said, adding that Hampton beach has a “high degree” of open rooms versus most of the area. “Would we attract those people? Yeah.”

Sawyer said the “vast majority” who come to Hampton Beach are “good citizens,” “but just like any community, you have that percentage of the population that engages in deviant behavior or criminal behavior.”

Sometimes, that group includes people like Peter L. Bartoloni, a 70-year-old accused of murdering his roommate on M Street this month. Bartoloni, a Level 3 sex offender in Massachusetts, failed for five months while living on Hampton Beach to report his change of address to local police, as he’s required to do by law, according to court documents.

He wasn’t arrested and charged with failure to report until he became a suspect in the recent slaying of a well-liked 56-year-old who was found with his head beaten in on his living room couch.

In another instance, members of the Latin Kings gang from the Lowell, Mass., area, have in recent years moved to Hampton, selling drugs from the beach, Sawyer said.

“Hampton Beach is the playground for Merrimack Valley. It has been for years,” Sawyer said. “I saw that as a good thing. But with the good you get that small percentage doing the bad.”

Sawyer noted that since “dealing with a transient population like that presents challenges for investigation,” Hampton police keep close contact with Merrimack Valley departments and even employ some officers with roots in that area.

Compounding the challenge for police is the fact that its large summertime special police force is disbanded the week after Labor Day. The department almost immediately begins planning to ensure it has a strong force coming back the next year — it just conducted its first employment test for the 2014 class last weekend — but in the meantime, police are still responding to the beach.

Sawyer notes that “seasonal fluctuation” in population creates specific challenges for a community like Hampton.

“It’s a difficult task for municipal government to keep up with the constant ebb and flow,” Sawyer said.

Indeed, the Hampton School District has also faced troubles in budgeting for the additional cost of educating technically homeless children who move to the beach in the winter.

SAU 90 Business Administrator Nathan Lunney said the federal McKinney—Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 mandates that any student who becomes homeless is entitled to stay a resident of his or her home school district.

That definition includes students who, for instance, live on a campground in Exeter in the summer and move to Hampton in the winter.

“When winter housing becomes available at the beach — right about the same time the campground is closing down — they take advantage of that,” Lunney said. “But by definition, now they’re homeless.”

If such a student wishes to continue going to school in Exeter, they’re entitled to do so, and the Hampton and Exeter school districts would split the cost of busing the student to and from Hampton each day.

Last year, SAU 90 had $14,000 budgeted for that purpose, Lunney said, but the cost actually exceeded $50,000.

The number isn’t always that high, Lunney said, but it has been the past two years.

“Especially with the economic realities we’ve suffered over the past few years, it’s become more of an issue for more families,” Lunney said.

Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said the school’s social worker and resident police officer also “assist where needed with the homeless population.” Lunney said the school was awarded a $3,900 grant relating to the McKinney-Vento Act, though that covers only a fraction of the cost the town faces.

“I think we’re trying every way we can to address this issue,” Murphy said.

Nita Niemcyzk, a volunteer with the Hampton Community Coalition, notes that seven soup kitchens in town help feed the working poor and homeless on Hampton Beach. In addition, her organization holds a pantry and help center at the Hobbs House three days a week to give assistance to those who need it.

She said Hampton’s eagerness to help its needy is paying off, as she’s seen a marked decrease in people living that campground-to-beach scenario and couldn’t think of any so far this year.

“That means our families are able to be more stable than they used to be. That’s a very good sign,” Niemcyzk said. “Just two years ago we had four families in a campground. I don’t know how long this will last, but right now I’m thanking God we’re OK.”

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