The federal government said yesterday that the downtown Washington shelter operated by the Community for Creative Non-Violence is housing far fewer people than CCNV contends, and it urged the U.S. Court of Appeals to allow the building to be closed quickly to reduce the risk of "confrontation and violence."

Federal lawyers, in court papers filed yesterday, said the government had planned to close the dilapidated shelter at 425 Second St. NW last Thursday night but delayed action because of a temporary stay granted by two appeals court judges the day before.

Last Wednesday night, the government said, Federal Protective Service officers counted 437 men and women using the shelter, about 140 people fewer than CCNV announced. At the same time, about 330 men were sleeping at a shelter in Anacostia Park that opened Nov. 14, and about 15 women were at a shelter that opened the same day in the Shaw area.

Early last week, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Richey gave the government permission to close the downtown shelter, ruling that the two new facilities, financed with federal grants, met the requirement of his August order that adequate alternatives be found before the CCNV shelter could be closed.

In a motion filed Wednesday, CCNV said the two new shelters, with a total capacity of 660, do not have enough room for all the people still using the Second Street shelter. It asked the appeals court to require at least 10 days' notice before its shelter, which occupies a government-owned building, can be closed.

Last night, CCNV leader Mitch Snyder strongly disputed the government's count of people using the shelter. He noted that federal officers were inside the shelter only from 9:45 p.m. to 11 p.m. The officers said they counted late arrivals outside the front door until 7 a.m., but Snyder argued that this did not provide an accurate tally.

Snyder dismissed as "absolute nonsense" the assertions by federal lawyers that CCNV was planning "active physical resistance of governmental authority" by erecting steel bars across the front entrance to the shelter and steel plates across some windows.

"It comes down now to a question of numbers," Snyder said, "and I don't think the Court of Appeals is going to throw people out on the streets [by closing the shelter] before Thanksgiving or Christmas or during the winter."

In their filing yesterday, lawyers representing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the government's obligation under Richey's order was only to find alternative accommodations for those using the CCNV shelter when the ruling was made in August. Otherwise, they said, implementation would be "impossible" because the government would be "thrust by judicial fiat into running an open-ended program of [sheltering] an unlimited number of allegedly homeless individuals."

They said the persons who were at the Second Street shelter had adequate opportunity to move, and those who "declined that option" should not seek "judicial relief . . . from the consequences of their own actions."

The government said the women's shelter at 455 Florida Ave. NW has a 60-bed capacity and that the figure of 35 persons on a recent D.C. permit application was incorrect. In addition, it said the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless plans to open a 25-bed shelter for women at 1333 Emerson St. NW in early December, and that it will rent temporary hotel space if it is needed.