The D.C. school system next month will begin busing a group of homeless children to and from their schools.

The plan is the first of its kind for the public schools and the first tangible result of what has been a two-year effort by advocacy groups for the homeless to get the schools to establish transportation for homeless children.

Advocates for the homeless lauded the pilot program as a step in the right direction, but said it doesn't go far enough.

"It's a great day in that they're {the school board} beginning to respond to the needs of homeless children," said Anita Bellamy Shelton, executive director of the Mental Health Association of the District of Columbia.

Shelton said that after years of lobbying by her group and others, the school system by now should have a school transportation plan for all of the city's homeless children.

The pilot program approved by the D.C. school board Wednesday night will provide bus transportation for about 58 elementary school children living at the Budget Inn, in the 1600 block of New York Avenue NE.

The program, scheduled to start Jan. 29 and run to the end of the school year, will cost the schools only the salaries of two drivers. The buses will carry the students to and from 14 schools, some as close as Webb Elementary about a quarter mile away and others as distant as Green Elementary in Southeast.

Many children continue to attend the schools they went to before their families lost their homes.

While this gives their lives some sense of stability, Shelton said, it also means that they must take public transportation over long distances to school. If the family can't afford car fare or the children's parents can't escort them, they stay at the shelter. If they walk alone, they often travel past dangerous areas, she said.

Board member Wilma R. Harvey (Ward 1), who sponsored the plan, called it "a significant first step to address the needs of homeless children." Harvey said she hoped that by the next school year, there would be a policy to provide transportation for all homeless children.

The plan was proposed to the board on Dec. 4, three days before a 13-year-old boy living at the Budget Inn was hit by a car on his way home from school with his 10-year-old brother. The boy is hospitalized with a broken left thigh bone.

Shirley Ricks, the boys' mother, said that her two boys had to travel more than an hour on two buses to get to their school in Southeast.

She didn't want to switch them after moving to the Budget Inn because they "felt comfortable" at the school. But she said the long bus trips worried her and she often fretted that the children might get hurt.