A recent spate of Post articles strongly implied that detention in a mental hospital is an acceptable solution to homelessness in the District of Columbia. Several reasons emerged from the news accounts: homeless persons are invariably mentally ill; homeless persons should not be allowed to remain on sidewalks in public view; courts and public policy-makers have removed legal barriers to placing the homeless in St. Elizabeths Hospital; advocates for the mentally ill agree with this policy; and finally, St. Elizabeths is not such a bad place to be housed.

Homelessness is not a problem that can be fairly and humanely solved by locking up homeless people in St. Elizabeths. The reasons advanced in these articles are plainly erroneous.

The cover story in The Post's Weekend section Nov. 13 portrayed St. Elizabeths, in pictures and prose, as a beautiful and peaceful Victorian hamlet suitable for family outings. Its treasure trove of Victoriana is lovingly examined with nary a comment about the hospital's central purpose. This paean to the hospital's physical plant and favorable location should have run in the Real Estate section so that people unfamiliar with the hospital's potential for development could have been educated.

This story was followed by a report Nov. 18 that the District government had placed 16 homeless families in St. Elizabeths as a way of meeting their immediate housing needs. The story did not explore the implications of this extraordinary action nor were any of the affected persons interviewed. One can only imagine what the children told the other kids at school about their new home. What of the adults dealing with prospective employers? Perhaps they can say they are on an extended family outing.

The next day, George Will asserted {op-ed, Nov. 19} that most homeless people living in the streets are mentally ill and should be locked up in mental hospitals. His facile and informed writing makes it easy to accept not only his statement of the problem but also his solution. It sounds right much in the same way it must have sounded right to intern Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. But Will must recognize that fundamental to solving homelessness is finding homes, not filling up mental hospitals. Even those with emotional problems would not automatically require or benefit from psychiatric hospitalization; like other citizens with such problems, they can receive a full range of outpatient care, provided in conjunction with housing and related services. How will future generations judge us if we "solve" homelessness by simply resorting to mass mental hospital detention?

In the same edition, a straightforward news account reported that a D.C. Court of Appeals ruling will make it easier to commit some homeless people to St. Elizabeths Hospital. Through statements of a Mental Health Law Project attorney, the reader is told that the ruling will not be challenged, in part because of counsel's agreement with the change. An intelligent reader could easily conclude from the report that the government had prevailed in the case and that the attorney for the homeless would not challenge it.

This conclusion would be false for several reasons not addressed in the article. First, courts do not legislate; legislatures do. The case decided by the court of appeals did not involve a challenge to the commitment law, and accordingly, the court did not modify the law. Second, the reporter failed to interview the real "other side" in the case -- the lawyers from the Public Defender Service who handled all phases of the case, including a pending challenge to the decision in the court of appeals that was of record two weeks prior to the article. Telling only one side of an important story as was done here is the hallmark of biased reporting.

These four stories, taken together, deprive the reader of an accurate and fair portrayal of the problem of homelessness. The message seems to be an unwelcome invitation to resurrect the long-discredited and clearly illegal practice of placing out of sight and out of mind the people most of us simply don't want to encounter in our daily lives. -- Harry Fulton The writer is an attorney with the D.C. Public Defender Service.