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Fewer on F-M streets this holiday

Under pi?atas and stained glass windows, David Due ate a Christmas Eve dinner at Churches United for the Homeless Tuesday night. It was Due's first Christmas in a shelter and the eighth being away from his family, said the 41-year-old Califor...

Under piñatas and stained glass windows, David Due ate a Christmas Eve dinner at Churches United for the Homeless Tuesday night.

It was Due's first Christmas in a shelter and the eighth being away from his family, said the 41-year-old Californian.

"I wished I was home with my kids," he said Christmas Day.

Due, who claimed to be a direct heir of British royalty, said he hitchhiked to Moorhead on a mission to clear up some child support issues.

Due was one of 24 people who stayed at the shelter Tuesday night, a number that was far less than normal for the holiday, said Brad George, a shelter supervisor.

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The shelter, which can hold a maximum of 44 lodgers, was a little more than half full Tuesday. Of the four family rooms available, only one was occupied, George said Wednesday.

"I've worked here for three Christmases and I've never seen it like this before," he said. "It's usually so full."

George attributed the decline in part to homeless people moving to Minneapolis, where there are better-paying jobs.

In the Fargo-Moorhead area, "We have a good job market, but not high-paying wage jobs," he said.

One of the reasons for the decline could be the shelter's turning away people who abuse substances in the church, said Bess Askew, the shelter's office administrator and volunteer coordinator.

A lot of people look for something to relieve their pain during the holidays, but the church doesn't tolerate alcohol abuse, she said.

However, the number of people at Fargo's Centre Detox have been low, Lee Christianson, a detox technician with the center, said Wednesday.

In general, there have been fewer people on the street this year than in other years, said Brad Baer, a downtown resource officer with the Fargo Police Department.

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The Police Department has had a campaign for the past several years to eradicate downtown drinking and panhandling, he said.

If people can't beg in downtown Fargo, they can't really do it anywhere in the city, he said.

Also, this is not an easy place to be in the winter, he said. Some of the homeless have moved on.

The vast majority -- about three-quarters -- of Churches United's occupants are travelers who are just coming through, Askew said.

One-quarter are locals, she said.

An increasing number of the Churches United's lodgers suffer from mental illness, she said.

"They're just out here with a bottle of pills, wandering," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Lisa Schneider at (701) 241-5529

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