An alternative plan has been circulated to house the roughly 600 homeless people now living in a squalid shelter operated by the Community for Creative Non-Violence at 2nd and D streets NW. The idea was put together by federal officials and the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless.

It involves using about 40 trailers, capable of housing 15 people apiece, and two existing facilities to house the CCNV people temporarily. In the meantime, assorted city-owned buildings would be renovated to provide more permanent quarters. The cost of renting and operating the trailers would be about $346,000. That would come from the $2.7 million the federal government has pledged toward the project. Some of the federal money would also presumably be used to defray the longer-term renovation costs.

The new plan has been criticized by Mitch Snyder of CCNV and some other advocates of the homeless. The critics say it is too bureaucratic (even as the D.C. Coalition says Mr. Snyder's operation is too loose). Mayor Barry, in any case, would have to back the idea, and by the end of the month, after which it is said the federal funds will no longer be available. But the mayor has been typically silent. District officials simply say they are analyzing the plan.

The new plan is an alternative to Mr. Snyder's continued use of the 2nd and D building, which began two years ago. Mr. Snyder for more than a year now has been fighting with federal officials over renovating the building. They had originally offered $2.7 million for that; they now want to close the building and give the money to the District government instead. The mayor's position has been that he wants neither the money nor the responsibility that goes with it.

There are questions about the new plan. Not all the longer-term facilities envisioned may be available. The old Bundy school building is identified as a possible long-term shelter site, but that building has already been turned into office space for the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration.

But the coalition plan seems the right direction to go. Mr. Snyder is contemptuous of the kind of aid to the homeless the coalition tends to favor; it is more conventional and rule-bound than the kind he provides. But for that very reason it offers a more manageable alternative than his. The mayor should take the coalition up on its idea, and help to perfect it. Winter is approaching. He has an obligation, and he has been offered the means of carrying it out. What excuse does he have for not moving?