WHAT CAN religious congregations do to help the homeless? Just ask one father of four who lost everything when his drug addicted wife abandoned the family. Without the help of two incomes, the family was evicted from its apartment. But the First Trinity Lutheran Church offered the father support and a home in its shelter. The church also sent him to MANNA, a non-profit group that provided him with counseling and sold him an $80,000 home by working with local banks and the D.C. government's Home Purchase Assistance Program.

That type of effort has inspired a timely new campaign called One Church-One Home by the Washington-based Churches Conference on Shelter and Housing. The program is to be formally unveiled this month, and its goal is to enlist the services of at least 100 new congregations that are not currently involved in coping with the problems of homelessness in the region.

Some congregations have already launched several commendable efforts, which range from the raising of money to buy an inexpensive used car for a single mother who needed transportation to a new job to "adopting" homeless families by providing day care services for those who cannot afford the cost. The Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Northern Virginia, for example, helps by raising money to pay the difference between the cost of an apartment and what the family can reasonably handle.

In the Shaw section of Northwest Washington, the United House of Prayer has raised enough money to purchase low-cost vacant housing. Its congregation handles all necessary renovations, and the units are then rented to those who can move out of city-operated shelters. In District Heights, the Church of the Great Commission has two goals: to provide four units of transitional housing and to buy and renovate a home that will be sold to a poor family.

Considered individually, these efforts might not amount to much, given the fact that there are thousands of homeless people throughout the Washington area. But these congregations are providing a vital form of relief to people who would otherwise remain dependent on expensive hotel shelters and social programs run by the cash-strapped D.C. government. The One Church-One Home program could lead to further efforts in this area and deserves support.