His goal is to find a job as a desk clerk at a motel and live in an apartment of his own. He knows it will be tough.

The young man, who suffered a serious mental breakdown 10 years ago when he was in college, is one of the luckier ones in his situation. With medication and help from a county counselor, he is able to maintain some control over his illness. Almost as important, he has a place to live, sharing a house on N. 13th Street in Arlington with six others suffering from some form of mental illness.

Thousands like this young man, who asked not to be identified, cannot find an available slot in a community-based home for the mentally ill, according to the Virginia state government. The few group homes for the mentally ill are full and have long waiting lists, state officials said. And, they add, there are many more who need such facilities but never even get on a list.

Northern Virginia jurisdictions report having about 250 residential placements for the mentally ill, including emergency shelter and supervised apartments. Of the total, 66 slots are in 10 group homes for adults. All the facilities are full, and officials in each jurisdiction say they need more.

For those who cannot find a place in a community residence, the options are few: About half live with their families, according to local and national surveys, but relatives often are ill-equipped to provide adequate care and round-the-clock supervision. Others remain in state mental institutions, even after doctors say they no longer need hospital care. And some try to live on their own, often ending up sleeping outside with whatever belongings they can carry.

Mental health specialists say that while inadequate financing is the major reason for the housing shortage, neighborhood opposition has often caused long delays and made it more difficult to develop a system of community residences.

Community opposition flares virtually whenever a local government proposes a site for a group home for the mentally ill. Area residents worry that the people moving in will be violent or abusive, and that the presence of the home itself will reduce the value of neighboring property.

Local officials, trying to juggle the concerns of neighbors with the need to find housing for mentally ill clients, say they stress to neighbors that the residents are carefully screened and supervised.

Once the home is in place, they say, the resistance generally subsides.

Though deinstitutionalization, adopted as a national policy over the last three decades, was meant removing patients from large institutions and placing them in community residences, financing to establish such housing has been in short supply.

An October study by the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse estimated that in the next six years 13,100 mentally ill Virginians will need special housing to help them live in the community.

The state now has 673 beds to serve that population, and more than 100 of those are for emergencies of different kinds, according to that study.

The department seeks a budget that would add 1,281 beds in the next six years, at a cost of $19.7 million. But even nearly tripling the current number of beds would not be enough to meet the need, they add.

Housing is a major component of the department's overall request for an additional $140 million for community services in the next two fiscal years, nearly double the current total, of which $52 million would go into the mental health area.

The Virginia General Assembly is expected to make mental health a top priority this year, though those programs will have to compete with other pressing needs in the state.

The story is the same in all the Northern Virginia jurisdictions: few housing slots, long waiting lists, and little money to fund additional housing programs:Fairfax County has two group homes that serve a total of 14 mentally ill adults.

Mary Lilly, residential services team leader at the county's Mount Vernon mental health center, said she has 22 applications for each spot.

The county also has 79 "supervised apartments," where people live on their own or with roommates and are visited by social workers.

It finances 52 other beds for specialized needs, such as children, adolescents and emergency shelters.

Alexandria has 57 residential slots in its mental health system. Those include 11 people who receive supervision from social workers and can afford to rent their own apartments, most of them in two two-bedroom units at the Oakwood Apartments on Duke Street. Others are set up with roommates in apartments supervised by city caseworkers, while seven people share a city-operated rooming house without supervision.

New Hope, in the West End of Alexandria, is a transitional group home with seven slots and a full-time, live-in counselor. Adults can live there for up to two years.

The city opened a long-term group home in May 1986 to serve seven adults on Dogwood Drive near Fairlington.

That is for the least functional of those served and is permanent housing, city officials said. The residents there all spend their days at community day programs and are sometimes taught to cook and clean at the residence.

Arlington has 19 spots in three group homes with various levels of supervision. A new licensed home for adults with 24-hour-a-day staffing, considered permanent housing, serves seven other mentally ill adults.

"I have stacks and stacks of applications" for the housing, said Nancy Jarosz, developmental division coordinator for the Arlington Community Residences Inc. (ACRI), a nonprofit organization that runs the housing programs for the county's mentally ill.

In addition to the group homes, 40 people in Arlington live in their own apartments but are supervised regularly by social workers. ACRI staff members sometimes helped them find the apartment.

"Clients may have difficulty selling themselves" to landlords, said Jarosz.

They try to find subsidized federal housing for clients, but there is a waiting list of about two years for that in Arlington, she said.Prince William County has one group home that serves six mentally ill clients, and two subsidized and supervised apartments for six others.

Loudoun County has one group home for six people, with a waiting list of 13 to get in, and supervises seven other clients in subsidized or unsubsidized apartments.

Community-based homes and apartments for the mentally ill resemble any other in the residential areas, except some have been remodeled so that six to eight people can live there. At some, each resident has his or her own room; in others, they share bedrooms. Different homes provide different levels of service and supervision.

In some cases, a county-paid counselor must be present at all times, while others are staffed only part time. Where residents are functioning well, they share the chores, such as cooking and cleaning; at others, virtually everything is done for them.

While much of the housing for the mentally disabled in this area is intended to be a bridge to independence in one's own apartment, state mental health officials say this is an outmoded approach. The real need is for permanent housing for the chronically mentally ill, they say.

"People need consistent permanent housing and support," said Howard M. Cullum, Virginia's commissioner of mental health and mental retardation. "We want to move away from that mentality that says as soon as you get organized we will move you out . . . . Families {of mentally ill people} aren't looking for transitional housing."

Most of Northern Virginia's residential programs have rules that require the clients to take their prescribed medications. They also prohibit alcohol, illegal drug use, violent behavior and sex at the facility. Residents who break the rules risk getting evicted from the program.

This can make it difficult for some people -- particularly those with a history of drug abuse or violence -- to find a community program that will even put them on a waiting list, according to mental health advocates.

"So many people would come back to the hospital because they could not meet the criteria" of existing community programs, said Jennifer Markovic, formerly the patient advocate at the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Fairfax County and now a state advocate for the rights of the disabled. "You have to be a perfect person who is incidentally mentally ill."

Homes for adults, licensed by the state's Department of Social Services, are supposed to provide meals, protection and general supervision for all types of adults needing care -- not just the mentally ill -- but no treatment program is required.

Many of those using group homes receive federal supplemental security income because they are permanently disabled. That gives a person a maximum of $340 in income a month, still not enough to cover the rent on most apartments in Northern Virginia.

Residents in homes for adults get to keep $35 a month for themselves from their federal assistance checks. The rest goes to the home operator, and a state auxiliary grant for each client pays the rest of the cost of the housing up to a rate approved by the state government. Auxiliary grants to pay for homes for adults average about $200 a month.

In other parts of the state, homes generally are privately operated. Often people with no particular mental health training provide little more than "three hots and a cot" in return for the disability checks, said Betty McManus of the Northern Virginia Mental Health Association.

The two licensed homes for adults in this area designed for the mentally ill are nonprofit operations run by contract with the counties.

While initial reaction of a neighborhood to the creation of a group home is almost uniformly negative, local officials and some neighbors of existing homes say that changes once the residence is there.

Alexandria's Dogwood Drive facility, for example, encountered strong opposition from the neighborhood when first proposed.

"Everything is going very well," said Rosalind Bovey, who was president of the North Ridge Citizens' Association when that group opposed the site selected for the home. "Once the furor died down, they {neighbors} don't even know it's there."

"We haven't had any complaints," said Kathy Maxted, a member of a neighborhood advisory committee on the home. " . . . People gradually realize they aren't being affected by this."