When they lived in the Groveton Garden Apartments off Rte. 1 in Fairfax County, Jim and Mary Nulanz never paid much attention to the shelter next door.

"I thought it was for homeless children or something," Mary Nulanz said of Mondloch House, which she could see from the window of her two-bedroom, $385-a-month apartment.

Then Jim Nulanz went out one morning to play football with friends, broke his leg, and, consequently, lost his job driving a van for a printing company. Mary, who had already missed a number of days of work because the couple's car was broken, came down with the flu and was fired from her position as a mailroom supervisor at a local company.

They were evicted from Groveton in March 1984 and embarked on a year of makeshift living arrangements -- sleeping on friends' floors, staying at cheap motels along the Rte. 1 corridor and living at Mondloch House for a week in May.

They ended up there again in January, when they were given a day to leave a friend's apartment after the landlord discovered four adults and five children crowded into its two bedrooms.

"I heard on the news about the homeless downtown," Jim Nulanz said. "I never thought it would happen to me."

Jim Nulanz has been working about 30 hours a week, making minimum wages in the kitchen at a Chuck E. Cheese pizza restaurant. Mary Nulanz is working part time as a cook and cashier at the Holly Farms Fried Chicken Restaurant in Beacon Mall. Together, their take-home pay is about $240 weekly.

"We're still looking, but every time the rent's too high, or they don't want children or things like that," Mary Nulanz said recently, putting away laundry in the family's small bedroom in the county-funded shelter. The two adults and 17-month-old Autumn Marie share two cots; 2-month-old Linda Courtney sleeps in a crib.

Shelter director Jana Graves agreed to let the family stay beyond the 30-day limit. Last Monday, they teamed up with another woman at Mondloch to share a two-bedroom-and-den apartment beginning next month.

"We're going to slide in undercover," explained Jim Nulanz. "They won't rent it to two families, but on the lease it says relatives can come and stay with you for a while. So my wife will pretend that she's the sister, and I'm going to be the long-lost cousin from Utah. That's the only way we can do it."

On Friday, Jim Nulanz was hired as a supply room clerk at Blue Cross-Blue Shield. He starts work this week at the position, which pays $12,142 annually.

"It feels like something good's finally starting to happen," Jim Nulanz said.