Initiative 17, which guarantees shelter to D.C.'s homeless, does not cause the homeless to appear or public housing to stand vacant. But it is not a cure for our homeless problem, either. It is simply a first step in finding permanent solutions.

The homeless need more than the bed-and-blanket emergency shelters. Most have serious problems. A bed will not cure schizophrenia or a crack addiction, and it will not improve employment opportunities. The chances of these problems becoming resolved, however, are immensely greater when one is inside a shelter rather than out on the streets.

The city's argument against Initiative 17 has always been financial. But the D.C. government's inefficiency has caused a disproportionate amount of money to be spent on providing shelter. Let's direct our rage at the owners of the for-profit hotel hell-holes and the city officials who failed to search for more cost-effective solutions. Proper implementation of the initiative should not necessarily mean higher taxes if programs were administered better.

In 1989 the D.C. register published reasonable rules and responsibilities for homeless persons using city-funded shelters. These rules encouraged job counseling and treatment for addiction and mental illness. So we don't need more rules -- as the D.C. Council proposes -- we need the existing ones enforced.

Finally, Initiative 17 must be reinstated to ensure that non-profits can keep successful programs intact. If Initiative 17 is overturned, they will be forced to comply with burdensome reporting requirements and 30-day shelter limits. But non-profits already provide the best services at the lowest cost; government intervention in their operations will benefit no one.

We need to reinstate Initiative 17 so we can get on with solving the real problems: decent care for the mentally ill, drug rehabilitation, improved education and affordable housing. Vote for Referendum 005 and demand the results that we as voters wanted when we passed the shelter law in 1984. -- Lawrence Graham is director of Calvary Shelter Inc.

Once again, it is up to voters to decide the fate of Washington's homeless. A "yes" vote on Nov. 6 for Referendum 005 would preserve Initiative 17, which guarantees overnight shelter to the city's homeless. A "no" vote would permit the D.C. Council to restrict that right.

The Post has urged a "no" vote {editorial, Oct. 21}, arguing that the new mayor's hands should not be tied in deciding how to help the District's needy. But before deciding their stance on this crucial issue, D.C. voters should consider these myths about the initiative:

Myth No. 1: Initiative 17 acts as a "magnet," drawing the homeless hordes to the District.

Fact: The D.C. Department of Human Resources study reports that 97 percent of the families in its shelters are city residents. Indeed, surrounding jurisdictions complain that District residents come to their shelters. The presence of the homeless on Washington streets is not unique -- it is echoed on the streets of every major American city.

Myth No. 2: The District does more than other cities in caring for its homeless.

Fact: New York outspent the District in 1989, $577 million to $17 million and spent nearly three times more per capita on the homeless. Philadelphia spent twice as much as the District, and the District's per capita spending was equaled by Alexandria and exceeded by Minneapolis. In addition, the poverty level is higher in the District than in any of these other cities, suggesting an even greater need here. The District has indeed spent money sheltering the homeless, but has never come close to spending what the mayor and council threatened it would when Initiative 17 passed in 1984.

Myth No. 3: We need to change the law because we must end homelessness rather than warehouse people.

Fact: The D.C. Council's amendment to Initiative 17 will do nothing to end homelessness. It mentions services such as employment counseling, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and mental health counseling, but it disavows any intention to require them. If the council has its way, homeless individuals will be entitled to no more than 30 days of shelter per year, and an expensive bureaucracy will be created to make sure that undeserving people don't take advantage of District shelters.

Myth No. 4: The courts are running the shelter system and tying the District's hands.

Fact: The District has had years to comply with the law but never has. When the city was finally sued over the lack of shelter, it negotiated an agreement in which it promised to provide shelter. This agreement involves no services to the homeless in the way of counseling or rehabilitation. And almost immediately, the District began to renege on its promises. The court ordered the city to do what it said it would and could do.

Until we can address the root causes of homelessness, until we can get the proper help from the federal government, until we can actually hospitalize those who need it, employ those who are capable of it, house those who can pay something for it and shelter those who cannot protect themselves, we just cannot tolerate thousands of homeless persons sleeping in the parks, streets and doorways of Washington.

Vote "yes" on Referendum 005.

-- Lois G. Williams is a lawyer involved in a class action suit on behalf of the city's homeless.