Moving day finally came to RAP Inc. yesterday. Three months after the expiration of its lease and after members scoured the city for suitable sites, the moving vans rolled up and RAP Inc. moved to Forest Haven in Laurel.

RAP administrators have been searching for a location since July, when a $1-a-year lease on the five-story apartment building at 1731 Willard St. NW expired.

Because of RAP's record of success, many of its backers were baffled by the lack of support for the program since its troubles began. Every plan to relocate has been hindered by either community protests, objections by owners of the sites or the nonprofit organization's inability to beat commercial bidders.

The program's director, Ron Clark, said under an agreement with the city his Regional Addiction Prevention program, commonly known as RAP, can remain at Forest Haven until next September. No one at the Department of Human Services could confirm the deadline.

Originally, the Retarded Citizens Association opposed RAP's moving to the Forest Haven complex, a plan fostered by the mayor's office. Clark said members of the association were concerned about the two populations living so closely together. Officials from the association could not be reached for comment.

About 250 patients remain at Forest Haven, the District's complex for mentally retarded adults that once housed 1,500 people and is now under court order to close, said Charles Seigel, spokesman for the Department of Human Services.

"RAP will be a long ways from the rest of the facility {where mentally retarded patients live}, about 600 yards from anything or anybody," said John A. Jackson, administrator for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Service Administration.

Clark, who in July blasted the mayor for reneging on a promise to aid the center, said yesterday, "The mayor deserves credit for this one.

"We will continue searching for a permanent location as soon as we get settled. We still haven't given up on the possibility of getting the Anthony Bowen YMCA or a location in Ward 5," said a happy Clark, as he carried boxes from RAP's old home on Willard Street to waiting vans.

District council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), who said he would like to keep RAP in his ward, supported the organization's recent bid for the Anthony Bowen YMCA, but the site at 1816 12th St. NW has been targeted for another use.

Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) said he would be happy to see the organization move to his ward, which "has such a tremendous problem with drugs . . . . " Thomas said while RAP is in its temporary home "we're going to the board of zoning to get the zoning situated on a place in Ward 5."

Kwasi Holman, director of the city's Office on Business and Economic Development, said that $100,000 in city funds will be given to RAP for renovations -- once it finds a building.

RAP runs an 18-month rehabilitation program that includes counseling sessions, writing classes and programs aimed at building self-esteem and developing life goals. Currently 50 residents are enrolled, some referred by the courts, others who entered on their own.

"It is incredulous for this to happen to an organization that has been waging a war on drugs, almost solitarily, before it became popular," said a 36-year-old RAP graduate, who now works as a $28,000-a-year federal government program analyst.

"Neighborhoods tend to tolerate drug strips but will not accept a drug rehabilitation center," said the woman, who did not want to be identified. "There are other worthwhile prevention programs . . . but you need treatment for the people already in the trenches. They are not going to disappear. In fact, they are getting younger and younger."

Some residents on Willard Street say they hate to see RAP leave.

Teresa Smith, 24, who lives a few doors from RAP, said, "Those people who walk in there, they don't even look like the same people when they walk out."

Smith, who is a file clerk for B'nai B'rith, a security guard and a part-time model, said she has not been involved with drugs, but that RAP changed her life.

During the 1970s RAP operated a learning center, Smith said. Run by program residents, it operated like a day care center where neighborhood teens and children attended classes, received free lunches and were taken on field trips.

"They taught us a lot of things . . . to share, self-value, the importance of learning," Smith said. "These people gave all they had. If it wasn't for RAP I don't know where I would be."

Larry Herbert, 34, who has lived in the area most of his life, said, "They're never on the street. They always stay to themselves. They'll help you before they'll hurt you. They clean up the street, plant flowers there."

Clark, a former drug abuser, and two former priests founded RAP Inc. 17 years ago. The program, then at 19th and T streets NW, was the first local treatment facility in the area that did not use one drug to wean abusers from another, the director said.

Five churches subsidized the rent for the organization's first two years. RAP has made attempts at being self-reliant, once running a graphic design print shop, that went bankrupt. The center has long suffered from too little funding, Clark said.

Clark is trying to organize an advisory board of "movers and shakers" who can help the program in its fund-raising efforts.

Despite the odds, Clark and his staff are determined to survive. A reunion last year drew 300 of the 800 residents who successfully completed treatment and the event inspired Clark to continue the fight.

"The truth is simply that not everyone can afford the Betty Ford Center," said Clark.