MAYOR MARION Barry has embraced a plan to provide shelter for homeless families at a fraction of the cost of housing them in hotels. It would provide an array of services to prod parents into self-sufficiency again while placing their children in day-care facilities. This is welcome news.

The District government has been housing homeless families in hotels at the inordinately high cost of $2,700 per family per month. This had gone on for years without much attention until the number of homeless families seeking shelter rose dramatically last year. The hotel program was also bad policy. Children spent their days in hotels, learning nothing except perhaps things that they shouldn't know. Parents were ferried from one hotel to another for meals and simply became more dependent.

In the new plan, developed by city officials and shelter providers, the city would acquire 200 apartment units for use as temporary shelter while the parents received job training and some other help. The program for 200 families would cost $2.6 million a year, according to a city report. The current cost of housing and feeding the same number of families in hotels is $6.5 million. Mayor Barry also said that the city would attempt to locate 600 apartments for use as low-income housing.

D.C. Council members H. R. Crawford, John Wilson and John Ray deserve some mention here. Their calls for better ways to assist homeless families prodded Mr. Barry into taking action on the new plan. The council members made some suggestions worth noting. It would be far less costly, for example, to identify families in distress and help them pay rent before they are evicted. The city's Emergency Assistance Services Program, which already pays rent and security deposits for families in need, is worth expanding.

The new plan sat on the mayor's desk for six months. We hope it won't take him that long to put it into effect