ANDREA, who was homeless just a few months ago, is fortunate. Two months ago she was allowed to move into Community House, a home in Northwest that she shares with four other women who were homeless too. It's called "second stage" housing. She had lived at a homeless shelter and contracted lice. She had no other place to go.

A group of churches, the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, rented the home. It costs about $730 a month. All the women need is to have some income -- Andrea has a $350 disability check -- to live there as long as they want: in a real home. The house is fully furnished from private donations. It gets no money from the D.C. government. The Downtown Cluster pays a former nun a modest sum to act as a kind of house mother for Community House and one other house for formerly homeless women.

A group of 16 Presbyterian churches last month opened Andrew House, for formerly homeless men. A nonprofit group called Housing Opportunities for Women also has such a house. They rely on private donations.

The homeless are not just drifters, not just insane people who should not be out on the street. They are also people who are sometimes just down on their luck. This is a city with virtually no affordable housing for people who receive as little as $206 from welfare and $80 in food stamps every month. Rent control does not help them. The old single-room-occupancy dwellings have been replaced by office buildings.

In 1984 more than 100,000 people in Washington voted for an initiative to give homeless people the right to overnight shelter. Forget whether it could be enforced or whether it is sensible. Look at it for what it is: a measuring stick that shows a lot of people care. Many have something to give -- maybe just a chair for a house where five formerly homeless women can live. The same thing can be duplicated again and again.

One of the formerly homeless men of Andrew House has already put enough order into his life to get a job as a postman. As Emileen Norris, "house mother" for Community House, says, "once you have a place to call home, you can begin to heal."