Advocates for the homeless, seeking to overturn the D.C. Council action that ended the city's guarantee of shelter, launched a drive yesterday to get the 14,229 petition signatures needed to place a referendum on the November general election ballot.

Members of the Community for Creative Non-Violence began the petition drive at a morning news conference on the steps of the District Building, and vowed to meet the Aug. 13 deadline to submit the signatures to the D.C. Board of Elections.

Steve O'Neil, a spokesman for the Save Initiative 17 movement and the organizer of the petition campaign that led to the initiative's approval in 1984, said more than 500 people have volunteered to circulate petitions at shopping areas, Metro stations, political rallies, festivals and cultural events. More than 100 churches also will work to gather signatures, O'Neil said.

Terry Lynch, a longtime activist for the homeless who is running for an at-large council seat, was the first person to sign the petition. "I'm very pleased that they allowed me to be the first to sign," Lynch said.

Also attending yesterday's event was Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is running for the District's congressional delegate seat being vacated by Walter E. Fauntroy, who is running for mayor.

The D.C. Emergency Overnight Shelter Amendment Act of 1990 was signed by Mayor Marion Barry last month after it was passed by the council in June. The act, which will become effective at the end of the congressional review period, revokes the right to shelter provided by Initiative 17 and imposes limits on the amount of time homeless people can spend in city-run shelters.

Five percent of the District's voters must sign the petitions to place the referendum on the November ballot, but the total must include at least 5 percent of the registered voters in each of the city's eight wards.

O'Neil said that as many as 25,000 signatures must be collected to make certain that the various quotas are met. He said all of the signatures will be checked against voter registration lists in an attempt to eliminate invalid names.

If enough signatures are not collected by the Aug. 13 deadline, the advocates for the homeless could continue to garner signatures until mid-September and force a special election in January.

But O'Neil said the group prefers the November ballot, "where there are a lot of people voting and we can get a clear mandate."

Also, a special election on the issue would cost $300,000, "and we don't want to burden the District with that," he said.