MAYORAL CANDIDATES Sharon Pratt Dixon, the Democrat, and Maurice T. Turner Jr., the Republican, both oppose November ballot Referendum 005, which would restore the city's right-to-shelter law for the homeless to its original, loosely written and open-ended form. They are right.

The law was passed by voters in 1984 as Initiative 17 during a time of increasing sympathy for the homeless and when the city's financial problems were far more manageable. But few envisioned the flood of homeless families that ensued. To meet the law's conditions -- immediate shelter for everyone who needed it -- the city repeatedly exceeded its budgets for the homeless in paying millions of dollars to hotel owners. Earlier this year, the D.C. Council amended the law to place limits on spending for the homeless, and that is what the supporters of Referendum 005 want reversed.

More than one-fourth of this city's residents -- some 176,200 people -- are dependent upon one or more social service programs funded by the D.C. government. More than 100,000 lack health insurance. Teen-age pregnancy and infant mortality remain severe problems. Requests for drug and alcohol abuse treatment have risen by 50 percent. The number of senior citizens in need has soared. The city cannot afford to help all members of every needy group. Shrewd and difficult choices are necessary, and the new government should not be tied down by a law that places one disadvantaged group -- the homeless -- above all others.

The government that will take office in January will need the freedom to rein in spending and increase efficiency in matching limited resources to these seemingly limitless needs. Don't bind their hands before that work can even begin. Vote against Referendum 005.