Carol Fennelly's letter {"Give Them Shelter," Aug. 18} urging passage of Initiative 17 is misleading. That initiative would require the D.C. government to provide overnight shelter for all homeless people. Carol Fennelly wants us to believe that the costs of Initiative 17 are minimal and that 1 percent of the total D.C. budget would be adequate if managed properly by the city. But the true costs of the initiative would be substantially higher.

We recognize that there is a need for a comprehensive national program for the homeless, but we urge Carol Fennelly to fight that battle with Congress, not the city. The broader issue of homelessness is not one that the tax-paying D.C. citizens should attempt to solve by themselves.

The city's politicians are worried about a huge shortfall in revenues, a flight of the middle class to the suburbs and a declining number of tourists and visitors. If officials are to reverse this trend, they need to make the city more attractive, not less. But if voters heed the call of those who want to solve national problems on a small and declining tax base, and underestimate costs, they might find revenues evaporating even faster.

Our walks through Washington show a sad reality. At Dupont Circle, we saw two day-care teachers and eight preschoolers walking around 30 to 50 alcohol-consuming, quarreling, middle-aged men, as the teachers looked for an unsoiled park bench or grass area. Along Gallery Place, we saw a similar skid-row scene.

At Metro bus-stop shelters on Connecticut Avenue, we routinely see sleeping alcoholics displacing bus riders. Downtown, we see panhandlers so aggressive that they block the sidewalks. More than once, we have detoured into the street with our 2-year-old in her stroller to avoid drunken men. Even playgrounds are not safe. More than once, the police have removed deranged and violent men from the toddlers' area of our local playground.

While only 1 percent of the taxes collected by the District go for the homeless programs, clearly the deteriorating conditions exact high hidden costs. To toddlers and children, costs are high when they can't play on playgrounds because of unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Tourists and shoppers who avoid the city because of panhandler harassment cost the city revenues and jobs. Working families who leave the city cost it even more in uncollected taxes.

Where have all these panhandlers and homeless come from? Visit Baltimore or the suburbs, and you hardly find any. We have to believe that Washington is attracting a disproportional share of homeless from other parts of the country. We have to believe that factors attracting them include the city's reputation for easy access to alcohol and drugs, lax policing and certainly the promise of free overnight shelter in inclement weather, a feature of the old Initiative 17. Whatever the causes, we want the District to make itself less attractive to people who live in our parks and on our sidewalks.

We disagree with Carol Fennelly's arguments. Based on what we see on our streets, together with the arguments in Post editorials and analysis by the D.C. Council, we believe that reaffirming Initiative 17 would be a costly mistake.