R. Robert Linowes notes that Washington is not dominated by the poor {Close to Home, Aug. 23}. To counter Jim Kalish's characterization of Washington as a city ''mired in misery'' {op-ed, Aug. 11}, he lists several economic indicators supporting the contention that ''the vast majority of Washingtonians are on sounder economic turf than those in any of the top 10 markets.''

The average Washingtonian may be better off than his counterpart in other U.S. cities. But this, added to the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, emphasizes the irony of poverty in the midst of the power and affluence of the nation's capital.

The upbeat economic statistics cited by Linowes are of no consolation to the 115,000 Washingtonians living below the poverty line. Nor are the numbers comforting to the families who mourn victims of an infant mortality rate measured at 21 deaths per 1,000 live births. The infant mortality rate -- an indicator of the overall health of a community -- is worse in D.C. than in some Third World countries.

Though Linowes paints a rosier picture, he and Kalish share some perspectives on the city. They differ on the extent of the District's suffering (is the glass half empty or half full?), but concur that a problem exists. Both are aware of the heroic undertakings of grass-roots groups. Linowes mentions So Others Might Eat, For Love of Children and Community Family Life Services. To these three I would add 350 other area charities. From the hub of the region's most extensive hunger-fighting network, I see no lack of effort on the part of locally focused public and private sector entities.

A point that Kalish stresses is that so much talent in Washington is not locally focused. Much policy planning emanates from this city that is directed elsewhere -- across the country, overseas, even in outer space. In my mind's eye I conjure a picture of a federal government official, on the way to his office to tackle a pressing Third World problem, stepping over the shivering body of one of Washington's homeless.

The labels ''Washington Cares'' and ''Washington Doesn't Care'' are too broad to be meaningful. Truth is, we need to keep confronting our problems, raising their visibility. We need to galvanize our greatest resource -- our people -- to do still more problem solving. -- Richard Stack is executive director of the Capital Area Community Food Bank. How richly ironic to read R. Robert Linowes' accolade to himself and the Greater Washington Board of Trade as exemplars of community improvement and the notion that ''Washington Does Care.'' In this development-crazed city, it is Linowes' zoning law firm and the Board of Trade that rank very high on the list of those who have helped squander this capital city's architectural aesthetic and historic building patrimony.

To properly appreciate their ''contribution'' and Linowes' assertion that ''Washington does have a heart,'' one need only look to the encroachment of high-rise monstrosity office buildings in residential areas, the erosion of residential zones all over the city, the dramatic loss in population over the past 20 years and the demise, south of Massachusetts Avenue, of almost every town house, row house and low-rise structure of any kind -- commercial or residential.

Linowes and the Board of Trade have championed one land grab after another for the commercial developers of this city. One looks to them in vain for ''Leadership Washington.'' -- James P. McGrath