Oliver Carr's exhortation to us {"6,000 to 10,000 Homeless Individuals," Close to Home, Jan. 10}, in his role as chairman of the Mayor's Homelessness Coordinating Council, is impressive and challenging. But I am far less optimistic about our willingness and ability to deal with the problem he so well describes. And that is perhaps because we have different analyses of the problem of homelessness.

Carr, in brief, says that our region has the capacity to deal with the full range of problems of the estimated 6,000 to 10,000 homeless persons (leaving aside any dispute as to whether this is an accurate number or an underestimate). At the same time, however, he says "the homeless are but the tip of the iceberg."

Most of the homeless were not homeless a few years ago. They are homeless now because of an array of structural problems in our society having to do with income distribution, the housing supply and the social service system. They have lost their homes because they cannot find employment that pays them enough to afford the going cost of a decent place to live; because they have fallen behind on mortgage payments; because of rent increases; because the landlord decided to convert his rental units to condominiums; because single-room-occupancy hotels, rooming houses and low-rent apartments are being gentrified and redeveloped out of existence; because the landlord has undermaintained or abandoned his building; because income-support payments are totally inadequate; because the deinstitutionalization movement never kept its promise of adequate community-based residential and care facilities for those released from mental hospitals.

What is under the tip of the iceberg are families now paying 50, 60, 70 percent and more of their income for housing; families doubled up with friends and relatives; families 60 to 90 days behind in mortgage payments.

The total number of "pre-homeless" people is many, many times the 6,000 to 10,000 regional figure and the 350,000 to 3 million figure estimated for the nation as a whole -- numbers that refer only to those who already have lost a regular place to live. The 1983 American Housing Survey -- the latest data available -- reports, for example, that nearly 7 million renter households were paying more than half their income for housing; five years later that figure doubtless is far higher. Those folks are a rent increase away from homelessness.

I thus doubt seriously whether even the extensive coordinated public-private effort Carr advocates is capable of doing the job. What is needed is an entire rethinking of the ways in which our society provides housing. Decent, affordable housing ought to be a right for all Americans. Given the economic and housing market realities I've cited, this likely can happen only if we move toward a system of nonspeculative, nonprofit development, ownership and management of housing, with major structural changes in the way housing is financed, so as to lower the central element of housing cost -- repaying, with interest, the vast capital cost of building and buying the places we live in.

-- Chester W. Hartman is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

I read with amazement Oliver Carr's piece. I find no fault with anything he said; we do have the means to provide adequate shelter for the area's homeless, and we even have the will, as evidenced by the many private coalitions and shelters serving the destitute and working poor.

No, I was amazed not at what was said, but by whom it was said. Carr owns a large percentage of the real estate in the Washington metropolitan area (much of it large office complexes, of which we now have a glut). How difficult would it be for Carr's corporation to develop a portion of his vast empire for affordable housing? It may not generate any income, and the company might even take a loss on the project, but I wonder whether a multimillion-dollar corporation would notice the loss.

And lest the response to this proposal be that there is no more land available for such a venture, one need only look at the land between Vermont Avenue, 14th and N streets NW, owned by Luther Place and available to any developer for free if only that developer would put affordable housing on it. Free land, and yet to date no developer has even approached Luther Place, let alone submitted a proposal. One can only conclude that the hunger for short-term profits takes precedence over any real effort to help the homeless.

So, while Carr's words are wonderful, they ring hollow. -- Rose Bierce

Oliver Carr correctly identifies a key aspect of the "homelessness problem" -- the idea that "what is at question is our will" when speaking of helping the homeless. Unfortunately, by failing to include the shortage of low-income housing in the District as an issue, Carr illustrates that very lack of will to face the issues directly and honestly.

The homeless people I speak with as a social worker downtown are certainly individuals, but they do share at least one thing: they are all faced with the prospect that once their individual problems are addressed, they still need housing. Housing that is affordable and decent is severely lacking in our city.

Carr identifies the issues of education, mental disability, health care and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. To these one can add the issues of breakdown of a former support group (family or friends), lack of participation in available programs (food stamps), the difficulty of sustaining self, let alone family, on a service job's pay scale and most certainly the severe shortage of low-income housing in D.C.

The Post itself has featured analyses of the housing shortage in this metropolitan area. For Carr to declare the homeless commission's intention to "develop a solid plan for action" and then fail to mention the crisis of unavailable low-income housing is ridiculous. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that developers such as Carr have helped to destroy once available housing downtown, or with the fact that the low- and moderate-income housing planned for the Gallery Place site being developed by the Carr Co. and others suddenly is no longer in the plans.

Of course an individual homeless person has needs greater than a low-income apartment dweller, but that is where social services can be supplied. As a professional social worker I can attest to the fact that it is easier for a client to address problems once he has met his basic needs, including a place to call home. -- Luke F. Frazier is director of the homeless services unit of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations.