A coalition of neighborhood groups has come forward to oppose a referendum on the November ballot to guarantee homeless people the right to overnight shelter in the District without restriction.

Yesterday, Citizens Against 005 announced their campaign to defeat the referendum, which was propelled onto the ballot by a massive petition drive by the Community for Creative Non-Violence and other advocates for the homeless.

The referendum would void an amendment passed this summer by the D.C. Council, and now awaiting congressional review, that would eliminate the right to emergency shelter that has been in place in the city for nearly six years. It would replace that guarantee with a program that would limit stays and place other restrictions on those who accept shelter.

The broader guarantee was overwhelmingly approved by District voters in Initiative 17, which passed in 1984.

Since then, the District government has had to greatly increase spending to meet court-ordered interpretations of the initiative that included the right to transportation to and from shelters.

The city says it spent $9 million for emergency shelters in 1985, the first year under the initiative, and $35 million last year. Those numbers prompted the council to propose some limits.

Dorothy Brizill, co-chairwoman for Citizens Against 005, said opponents of continuing the status quo are not anti-homeless.

"{We} support a responsible and compassionate overnight shelter program for the District of Columbia," she said at a news conference. "We believe, however, that the District's program for the homeless must not just provide shelter. It must also address the underlying problems that cause homelessness."

The council amendment would still provide for government services for shelter residents, including counseling for substance abuse and assistance in finding jobs and housing. Shelter residents who do not enroll their children in school, continually refuse employment or reject permanent housing could be turned away. Those with jobs also would be required to set aside money toward housing.

The amendment also limits stays in any 12-month period to 30 days for single adults and 90 days for families.

The D.C. Council passed the amendment in late June, undeterred by a protest fast by homeless advocates, including CCNV leader Mitch Snyder. After Snyder's suicide on July 5, Carol Fennelly took up leadership of the cause of preserving Initiative 17 with the petition drive for the referendum.

"Without the right to shelter, we are dead," she said. "We will have Calcutta on the Potomac. We are faced with a basic moral question of whether we will go into the 21st century with 20,000 to 30,000 people living on the streets of Washington."

Brizill is a community activist from Columbia Heights in Northwest Washington who has led efforts to limit the number of shelters in her neighborhood. The group's co-chairman is James Lawlor, president of the Tollgate Neighborhood Association in Northeast, who has lodged numerous complaints against a large shelter in his neighborhood. The two said they plan to seek the endorsement of other community organizations.