Mitch Snyder, the activist for the homeless who led the fight to require the District to guarantee overnight shelter to everyone, sees no contradiction in his current fight to protect space for the homeless in a Metro station.

Metro's decision to fence the Farragut West station after complaints about homeless people sleeping in the station and using the area as a toilet provided Snyder a rallying theme at a time when he and other advocates for the homeless say the number of homeless has far surpassed the Distict's ability to provide shelter.

"The Metro fence is a symbol, and a destructive one, that cannot take root," said Snyder, spokesman for the Committee for Creative Non-Violence. "The fence is the metaphor. The message is make the homeless go away because people don't want to deal with them, in this case smell them. But if we allow them to take away the outside spaces away while we are creating shelters and fighting for more housing, some of the homeless are going to die."

Meanwhile, the D.C. government's response to homelessness is undergoing changes. City officials say they are considering expanding the number of beds in city-sponsored shelters from 2,000 to 3,092. That will include the purchase of five mobile trailers as shelters and increasing by 600 beds the planned capacity at the Federal City Shelter, 425 Second St. NW., which was founded by Snyder.

In addition, the mayor last week named Washington developer Oliver T. Carr Jr. as head of a new 73-member mayoral advisory group on homelessness, a move that some say will add clout to city efforts to attract more business community interest in the problem.

The District's efforts reflect a changing attitude toward the homeless crisis. While local advocates continue to push for a larger government role and more shelter beds, there are also growing efforts to request that businesses and churches provide more assistance and address the lack of low-cost housing.

"If the response is to build shelters, I contend that you can never build enough," said the Rev. Tom Nees, a shelter provider and a member of a Barry administration homeless advisory group. "As soon as you build them, they are going to be filled. It is like picking up the wounded at the bottom of the cliff. Somebody needs to go above and build a fence so they stop falling over."

Meanwhile, some private groups are stepping up efforts. George Kettle, the Virginia multimillionaire who has guaranteed a free college education to the sixth graders at a Southeast Washington school, said he has joined another Virginia businessman in contributing about $120,000 to purchase two mobile trailers to be used as shelters in the District. "We are going to try to interest some heavy hitters downtown to do some things because we realize that the trailers are a stopgap measure," Kettle said.

Duane Gautier, manager of energy conservation for Potomac Electric Power Co., and a group of District shelter providers plan to start a group called the Association of Service Providers for the Homeless. The group -- the first of its kind in Washington -- plans to serve as a clearinghouse for donations from the private sector and to help reduce shelter costs by soliciting bids for services to be performed for several shelters.

The D.C. Churches Conference on Shelter and Housing is offering training sessions for churches or community groups that want to develop low-income housing or to open shelters for the homeless. In Prince George's County, the Interfaith Eviction Relief Fund, created by 40 churches, has raised $120,000 in government and business funds to help prevent evictions, said Sandy Mattingly, treasurer for the group.

Advocates for the homeless and government officials say such actions spring from a new realization about homelessness.

"People in the community say it {trying to shelter the homeless} is like spitting in the ocean and that is not debatable," said Marjorie Hall Ellis, the D.C. commissioner of social services. "We have probably reached that point in time . . . when we now know it is bigger than one specialty and any one interest group can handle."

The District spent $11.2 million on its homeless program in fiscal 1987 and plans to increase its financing for the current fiscal year. Still, on any given night, the city has an estimated 6,500 homeless people. Even before Wednesday's surprise snowstorm, District shelters were filled to capacity.

Fifty people a day are being turned away from CCNV's 500-bed men's shelter. And the CCNV women's shelter -- where 160 women are crammed into a space for 80 -- stopped accepting people for the first time in its four-year history.

In the event of a severe storm, District officials said they plan to open public buildings to house the overflow from shelters.

District shelters house a large number of people suffering from mental illnesses and drug abuse. But providers say they also are seeing a growing number of homeless families (500 of them are housed in the government's shelters), single individuals who work full time and younger women escaping overcrowded living arrangments.

Throughout the metropolitan area, social service officials say that a shortage of low-cost housing is one of the biggest factors contributing to the homeless problem. "Homelessness, unless you blame the victim, is a result of a lack of housing," Ellis said.

The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development has committed $3.8 million to programs designed to place the homeless in permanent housing. But the lack of low-cost housing remains an acute problem and some of the growing numbers of homeless are also among the 13,000 names on the city's public housing waiting list.

An analysis by the D.C. Department of Human Services concluded that single men and women were particularly hard hit when rapid gentrification and condominium coversion eliminated many old hotels and boarding houses used by transient adults.

Maryland and Virginia officials say they too are feeling the pressure to create more shelters for displaced people.

In Fairfax County, 2,476 people were turned away from shelters for lack of space in fiscal 1987 despite the county's increased spending on shelters. The Arlington/Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless, which this year provided six apartments and counseling services for homeless people who needed help making the transition from shelters to permanent housing, already has had to turn away 155 people.

Paul Byfoss, resource development coordinator for the homeless in Prince George's County, said that even with plans to increase local spending on homeless programs from $170,000 in fiscal 1987 to $470,000 during the current fiscal year, the assistance still would fall short.

"It's unfortunate, but we won't be able to help everyone because there just isn't enough to go around," Byfoss said. Staff writers David Hilzenrath, Tracey Reeves and Beth Kaiman contributed to this report.