Daily, a caravan of homeless District parents carrying infants, tugging toddlers and struggling with stuffed suitcases treks back and forth from the Budget Motor Inn, a shelter that will not house them by day, to the Pitts Motor Hotel, which cannot keep them at night.

A sign in the narrow hallway at the already-full Pitts shelter warns that visiting families are not allowed in the rooms.

So during the day, they sit on the steps and sometimes doze in a nearby laundry room with their luggage. The noise in the Pitts hallway is sometimes overwhelming as 40 adults and children cram into space that seats 10.

The city's unusual arrangement, which some families called inhumane, results from the Budget Inn's unwillingness to accommodate the families during the day.

The District government, which also transports 71 families from two other shelter hotels to the Pitts for meals, has had no choice but to accept the situation, said Earnest C. Taylor, acting chief of the District's Office of Emergency Shelter and Support Services.

"I like these arrangements," said Jerry Holbrook, general manager for the Budget Motor Inn. "Pick them up at 7:30 a.m. and bring them back at 7:30 p.m. I don't even want them here if they are sick. Let them go to the Capitol City," one of the city's principal shelter hotels.

Holbrook said he began accepting homeless families at the Budget, 1615 New York Ave. NE, at a cost of $50 a room a couple of months ago when the city had no place else to house them. He said he would not consider keeping the families all day because the children have no place to play and he fears his property would be damaged.

The city's practice of housing families in hotels has been criticized by politicians and city officials. Critics have deplored the conditions and high cost and have said the practice removes the incentive to find permanent housing.

Taylor said the Budget, the only hotel that receives as much as $50 a room, is also the only hotel where families must leave by noon and take their belongings with them. Some of the parents who stay at the Budget work while others receive welfare payments, and some have no income. The city encourages parents who do not work to search for jobs and housing daily and not to leave their luggage at the Pitts when they go out.

Parents said that at the Pitts, 1451 Belmont St. NW, only one of the three pay telephones they are supposed to use for job- and housing-related calls is working, and that city workers have told them that no bus tokens are available if they have no money to travel around the city.

"They won't even feed the children unless the parents are with them in the cafeteria," said Mary Moore, whose family stays at the Budget. "You can't do much of anything but stand around here and make sure your children eat."

A woman in her late thirties, who asked that her name not be used, said the pressure of moving back and forth to the Pitts with her 4-year-old daughter is nearly unbearable.

"Before I go to work, I bring my baby to the Pitts to eat breakfast, then I take her to the baby sitter's, then I go to put my suitcase in the locker at the bus station," she said. "I just got a new job and I am an hour late every day. They {coworkers} thought I was crazy because I was crying so much, so I had to break down and tell them I was homeless."

Taylor said that it is unfortunate that there is no storage facility for families' belongings and said he will look into the problem. He said the city has run into great difficulty finding hotel space for the growing number of homeless families and that a few families have been known to destroy property.

In November, city officials said they were forced to house 16 homeless families in a multipurpose building at St. Elizabeths Hospital, a mental hospital, after the management at the Days Inn at 2700 New York Ave. NE complained that the families broke furniture and disturbed the motel's other guests.

"The moment you mention the homeless, it is as though people see it as a stigmatized population," said Taylor, adding that some families have caused problems. "People are coming in faster than they are moving out and it is almost as if we're a substitute for public housing units."

Yesterday, the city housed 480 families, including 1,324 children, in either shelter hotels or temporary apartment units. While city officials maintain that they are trying to meet the families' basic needs, the families from the Budget said they have become a dispossessed and forgotten people.

Because neighbors complained about congestion around the Pitts, the Department of Human Services buses no longer pick up the Budget families at the Pitts' door. Instead, the families must walk a block away in the evenings to catch the bus.

Some parents attributed their children's recent illnesses -- ear infections and colds -- to continual exposure to the night air. Even their requests to keep sick children at the Budget during the day were denied, parents said.

Taylor said the Budget has agreed to keep three sick children during the day as long as the city does not expect the inn to establish a policy for accepting them.

"I sit here on the steps every day with my kids," said one woman, who held her 9-month-old child as she sat in the front doorway of the Pitts. "What it all boils down to is people don't care if the problem is not on their doorstep."