The D.C. Department of Corrections relies on strict regulations to ease offenders at a Northeast halfway house back into society, but when the men step outside, their first obedience is to an unwritten code of community conduct.

"We pass the rules on to the new guys," said halfway house resident Eugene Lassiter. "We tell them that 'You don't want to hang in front of the building or loiter when you walk to and from the house, and you don't want to use profanity when you're walking through the neighborhood.' The idea is not to make any of the neighbors get bad feelings toward us."

Homeowners in the 1400 block of G Street NE, where the halfway house is, once argued that the center's presence would endanger their children, result in more burglaries and become an eyesore in an otherwise well-kept neighborhood. They now acknowledge -- some of them reluctantly -- that they were wrong.

City officials say that intense neighborhood opposition, which has become the typical response to some proposed group homes, often fades once a home is established because the anticipated problems do not materialize.

However, Thomas Houston, a vice president for the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations Inc., says there is only limited acceptance of the 500 group homes throughout the city.

"The attitude in the communities is if you are going to put them here, we don't want to see them or hear from them," Houston said. "That is not right. I believe that the city . . . needs to launch a campaign to educate the people on just what these community-based homes are and what controls will be instituted and why there is a need for them."

How well city officials do that may determine the intensity of the debate over the next several years as the District government prepares to open 300 new group homes, putting more of them than ever in affluent neighborhoods.

An informal examination of three group homes in the District shows that the degree to which they are accepted depends on the number and the nature of the contacts neighbors have with home residents. Those homes were chosen because there was organized neighborhood opposition to them when they were proposed and because they represent a variety of facilities: a correctional center with 90 residents, a home for six retarded men, and a facility where some of the 16 residents are former mental patients from St. Elizabeths Hospital.

The locked door at 1430 G St. NE reflects the control residents believe that Community Correctional Center III has on its residents, but belies the center's relationship with neighbors.

Recently, 12 neighbors, including five children, accompanied the center's residents on a trip to the Wild World amusement park in Largo.

At the end of the summer, neighbors attended a center-sponsored picnic to celebrate the men's efforts to plant flowers around the home.

Such seemingly mundane activities have become a vital part of the survival of a 13-year-old center, through which groups of 90 men rotate in and out of a neighborhood that never wanted them around, said E. Cordelia Mapp, the facility's director. Neighbors watch the center closely and when there is a complaint, Mapp says it gets her immediate attention.

When the center placed a trash dumpster so that it was visible to motorists entering the street, neighbors objected and the dumpster was moved to the other side of the building. When neighbors complained that the men were plainly visible at night through tattered shades, the center got new shades.

"You have to be sensitive to those kinds of complaints," Mapp said. "If you make a neighbor feel uncomfortable and the situation is not rectified, you can make a little thing into a negative. We try to make folks see that we can be an asset rather than a liability."

Neighbors say the center's biggest asset is that its residents do not stand out. During their stay at the center, many of the men work during the day, none is allowed to stand outside the building and all are required to follow strict curfews.

Years ago, when city officials announced they were turning the then-vacant apartment building into a correctional facility, homeowners gathered for a stormy meeting at the New Canaan Baptist Church at the end of the block and predicted neighborhood chaos. However, homeowners interviewed recently said there have been no major problems.

"I was against it," said Fronie Grayton, who has lived on the block for 19 years. "I thought some of the guys would break into the house or bother the kids. But none of that happened. They keep it clean up there and there are no commotions."

Clara Herndon, who led the fight against the center and lives directly across the street from it, is more reserved in her assessment. She argues that the center's large turnover in residents raises the chances for future problems. "I think people have said, 'Oh, well, it's here, we can't do anything about it so we might as well adjust," Herndon said.

Jeanette A. Robinson, a renter who has lived on the street for 10 years, said, "I thought it was an apartment building."

In contrast, a cloud of mistrust and misinformation hangs over the Embassy Home, a group home at 3324 18th St. NW in Mount Pleasant. Neighbors there complain that the home's residents are poorly supervised and often disoriented as they drift about the neighborhood.

"One morning there was a man in the alley who looked like he was hallucinating," said Ellen C. Donahue, who lives behind the home. "This is going to sound strange but he didn't have a shirt on and he was carrying a pail on a chain. The chain was over his chest and the thing was rattling and he was raving . . . . I was scared to death and I was about to drive my 4-year-old to the nursery school. Who needs that?"

Years ago, neighbors said, residents of the home were elderly men who rarely caused problems. They say that in 1984, when the neighborhood blocked city plans to use the house as a correctional center, the population in the home changed. Although some neighbors say the home has been a problem in the neighborhood for about two years, none of them has tried to take their concerns to the operators.

Catherine Hopkins, one of the Embassy Home operators, said if anyone had asked her, she would have explained that some of the men who sit on her porch and walk about the neighborhood intoxicated do not live at the Embassy Home.

"We are trying to run a decent home and we try to take care of the fellows the best we can," Hopkins said. "There are new people moving in the neighborhood and they probably want to make a fuss because they don't want the home here."

But some of the neighbors' concerns were documented repeatedly in monitoring reports done during the last two years by St. Elizabeths Hospital.

"This is a good home for men who are fairly active. However, the residents who are here are not motivated to do much of anything," a St. Elizabeths monitor wrote in a November 1986 report. "They like being free to walk up and down the streets, stand around doing much of nothing."

Although some residents believe that the home is occupied by mentally ill patients from St. Elizabeths, hospital records show that only four of the 16 residents in the house during the last monitoring visit had been referred there by the institution. The other residents were listed as "private." Hopkins said most of the residents are elderly or disabled men who need medication.

Gloria Bookard, a psychiatric social worker who assesses St. Elizabeths patients to determine which facilities to place them in, said she was not aware of any community complaints about the Embassy Home. Although St. Elizabeths patients referred to group homes are supposed to have a program of activities,, health care workers sometimes are unable to implement those programs, she said. "You can't force an individual to do what he or she does not want to do," she said.

There are at least 12 other group homes within a four-block area around the Embassy Home. But neighborhood residents say the problem they have encountered with the Embassy Home is not typical of the others and that their anger with the Embassy Home has been fed in recent years by their inability to get information from the city.

"The general attitude in the neighborhood is that group homes are necessary," said Jane Rosenbloom, who lives across the street from the Embassy Home and next door to a halfway house. "If they are well run, we have no objections. But people from the Embassy walk around the street drunk or dazed and call things out to people when they sit on the porch. It makes us very nervous to have it here."

In Eastland Gardens, a quiet, tree-lined Northeast neighborhood east of the Anacostia River, homeowners are still trying to understand what it means to have profoundly retarded neighbors -- 18- to 26-year-old men who have the intellectual capacity of 1- to 2-year-old children and must be supervised at all times.

"These kids are not getting a community outlook," said Ethel White, who lives in back of the group home. "They are just there. They are not in the community. What's the difference from being in an institution?"

The neighborhood civic association filed a lawsuit three years ago to prevent the city from opening the home at 4012 Lee St. NE. The court ultimately determined that the city had followed proper procedures and the lawsuit was dropped.

Today, some neighbors watch the home closely, monitoring the height of the grass in the front yard and the amount of trash in the alley. But the chief concern is over whether the group home residents are receiving the proper care.

Neighbors report hearing screams and loud moans from the house. There is a hint of fear among some of them, reflected in comments such as "when they get out," referring to the times the men have been unsupervised and have left the home.

All of the men were transferred to the home as part of a court order to deinstitutionalize Forest Haven, the city's institution for the mentally retarded. Pamela Wise, the administrator for the group home, said some of her residents -- none of whom can speak -- developed unacceptable habits, such as screaming, to communicate their feelings while they lived in the institution.

"We are trying to get them to change some of their habits, but it is a slow process," Wise said. "One of our residents screams and I am aware that sometimes the screams travel. But he screams when he is happy as well as when he wants to express displeasure. I have tried to tell the neighbors that and told them to come over when they hear screams to see for themselves that no one is being mistreated."

Problems have occurred. For example, in February, neighbors found one of the home's residents, shoeless and clad only in nightclothes, walking about the neighborhood at 1:30 a.m. Wise said the man was able to leave the house because one or both of the staff members on duty fell asleep. Both workers were dismissed, she said.

Herman B. Greene, president of the area civic association, estimated that the majority of the community residents are unaware that the home is there. He also said the community had worked hard to accept the home by inviting the home's directors to speak at civic meetings and by stopping to visit. He generally believes a good relationship has been established with the home.

Wise has another view.

"They {the neighbors} have treated me warmly when I've talked with them," Wise said. "But the image I get from talking to others is different. They don't want us here. Recently, the staff told me that Mr. Greene was out front taking pictures of the place and saying he was going to do something about us because he is tired of hearing about the noise."