Story last updated at 1:56 p.m. Thursday, July 18, 2002

School yard campers deter summer vandals
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Betty and Paul Rogers pose in front of their camper parked at West Homer Elementary this summer to deter vandals.  
For Paul and Betty Rogers, spending the summer at school was no sacrifice at all. In fact, it's a great deal, they say.

The Rogers, who hail from Tennessee, are spending the summer camped in front of West Homer Elementary as part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's program offering utilities to long-term campers.

In return, the campers hopefully act as a deterrent to vandals.

"Statistics show that vandalism has gone down dramatically" at schools where the visitors set up camp, said Patty Sirois, who is in charge of the program for the district.

Lt. Randy Rosencrans of the Homer Police Department said school vandalism is often committed by young offenders who are more likely to be scared away by the presence of a live-in camper on the campus.

"Schools are always targets," he said. "Some kids have animosity toward them. I think (the camper program) is an excellent deterrent."

Sirois said the program has been in place for several years, but thanks to word of mouth and a little advertising in an RV magazine, many more campers are in place this year than in past years. Last year, only five campers signed on. This year, there are 17 camper hosts at schools around the district.

Unfortunately, more are needed, Sirois said. The Homer Middle School was again vandalized this month, and still has no camper host. In the Homer area, the high school is also vacant.

Sirois said the only thing the district asks for from its camping hosts is that they stick around for a couple months. In return, the district provides water, electricity and an emergency-use cell phone, provided by Alaska Communications Systems.

The district looks for long-term campers, Sirois said, because the burden on maintenance workers to hook up and unhook campers during the summer is too much.

Ideally, Sirois said, the district would like to have two camper host RVs at each school for the summer. That way, one could travel a bit around the state, while the other stayed back.

Camper hosts are not expected to pursue potential vandals or question people coming by the school, Sirois said.

"Just having someone there prevents vandalism," she said. "We ask that they don't approach anyone."

For the Rogers, who are newlyweds about to celebrate their first anniversary, the school "campground" has helped them save money while allowing them to spend a significant chunk of time in the Homer area visiting all the sights. They said they would recommend the program to anyone.

"We haven't been bored a minute since we came here," Betty Rogers said.

Sirois said response from past camper hosts has been positive, and several have returned to camp in new schools on the Kenai Peninsula.

"Overall, it's a win-win situation," she said.

Anyone wishing to get more information on the program can call Sirois at 262-9363.