IN THE NEXT several years, much more shelter and comprehensive care will be needed in Washington neighborhoods by those least likely to obtain them on their own. In a crowded city that has begrudgingly accepted more than 330 group homes with more than 10,000 beds, what will be the community's response to still more? There are few options, but there is lots of room for hypocrisy.

Washingtonians passed the initiative that called on the city to provide shelter for anyone here who needed it. But those voters are hard to find when it comes to opening a small shelter near their homes and in their neighborhoods. Lawyers won the release of hundreds of patients from mental hospitals, but where is the eloquence of the attorneys when the city is trying and failing to win community support for treatment facilities and homes?

Court orders here have demanded the release of mental patients, the mildly retarded and institutionalized juveniles. Homes and apartments must be found for them and for growing numbers of homeless families. More treatment facilities are needed for addicts and the chronically mentally ill. A site is needed for the city's fourth comprehensive mental health treatment facility and for three drug abuse treatment facilities for 400 addicts in Wards 5, 7 and 8.

Housing is the most serious need. The city needs 50 more apartments for use as transitional shelters and 600 more to use as low-income housing for families in need. Living arrangements must be found for more than 500 patients scheduled for release from St. Elizabeths Hospital. Fourteen residential sites must be found for 100 mentally retarded people who are now living in institutions. Twenty-five housing sites must be found for 100 detained and committed juveniles. Houses must also be found for 125 emotionally disturbed juveniles now scattered at facilities around the country. All this has to be found in a city with a 2.4 percent rental vacancy rate. That means that no more than 4,200 apartments on the market are vacant at any given time.

The city's churches, civic associations, neighborhood commissions, merchants, landlords and individuals could choose to oppose more of these developments. But a church could also pay for an apartment. A community group could sponsor a family. A neighborhood commission could supervise troubled youths. Each could participate in a manner that holds the city accountable for proper supervision. Which will it be?