While bureaucrats and politicians battled over homelessness yesterday, hundreds of the city's homeless men and women were just struggling to stay warm.

Many said they were unaware or even unconcerned with the high-level wrangling.

At the shelter at Second and D streets run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, the object of yesterday's discussions, resident Peter Clark, 27, went about his daily chores inspecting the troublesome toilets in the second floor bathroom, vowing to fix them.

Clark said he's grateful just to be indoors.

"From being out in the cold, 17 degrees, I can tell you, these people really helped me," said Clark, who moved into the shelter with his wife a few months ago after running out of money on a hitchhiking trip. "We're brothers and sisters here."

For 63-year-old Berley Ross who was preparing a Spam and white bread sandwich for lunch at the small city-run shelter on Irving Street, neither the idea of staying at the CCNV shelter nor the prospect of the expected overflow invading his new "home" was too appealing.

"That's the wildlands down there at Second and D," Ross said, "If that rowdy bunch came down here, I'd have to move out."

CCNV officials say their shelter has about 700 of the 1,700 beds available in the 10 shelters for men throughout the city, and about 100 of the 360 beds in the 11 shelters for homeless women.

Snyder and the CCNV estimate that the total number of homeless in the city is 5,000, although that figure is disputed by other shelter administrators.

On Friday night, the CCNV shelter was full, and as reports of the crowded conditions there and at other sites filtered into the irregular street network, some still without plans for the night were pressed with the task of finding safe, and most importantly, warm alternatives to the treacherous temperatures that claimed the lives of two homeless men in the District last week.

At the Bethany shelter for women on N Street NW, which provides hot meals for women during the day, about 20 women, still bundled in heavy coats and scarves, sat around small tables sipping hot tea and pondered the best place to find a night's lodging.

Ruby Bailey, 40, who said she was forced to leave her apartment after an argument with her roommate, has been staying at shelters around the city. She said her choices were few.

"I'm thinking about going there tonight," Bailey said, "but it's a long way to walk to Second and D. I was thinking about going to the shelter across the street, but sometimes you have to sleep on the floor."

"I'm a little scared, but I hope I can find a place," she added.

At the Pierce School, one of the city-run shelters for men in a former elementary school building in the Northeast, elderly men sat upright in wooden chairs, nodding uncomfortably into fitful sleep, while administrators who have been overwhelmed by the recent crush of men seeking refuge from the cold prepared for another onslaught as night fell and temperatures began to drop.

Julius Prince, the night supervisor of the Pierce shelter considered the arrangements that might be necessary, including setting up chairs, or "sit-ups," when they run out of bed space, responding to calls on the hypothermia alert hot line, and making the shuttle runs around the city to pick up the homeless and take them to shelters.

"We've been going around the clock since the weather got colder," Prince said.

Prince added that although the Pierce School and its sister shelter at the Blair School, also in Northeast, have filled only about three-quarters of the 300 beds between them, he anticipates that colder weather will eventually increase the numbers seeking shelter.

"A lot of people are going to die out there if we don't pick them up. They'll freeze on the streets. It's like letting them commit suicide."

Cornell Chappelle, director of the Irving Street Shelter, said requests for bed space have increased since the onset of cold winter nights. "There are a lot of hidden homeless who are sleeping in buildings, doubling up on a bed and sleeping in shifts, and it's hard to gauge how many there are," he said. "We're always filled, but when someone comes in, they don't get turned away."