Dozens of groups in the Washington area help with rent, mortgage and utility payments. Often the groups can pitch in just $100 or $200, but they work with other groups to put together a more substantial package.

Although the groups, which are too numerous to list here, often work with individuals without referrals, they suggest calling your county or municipal government first. That agency can help with the costs as well as refer residents to organizations serving the area in which they live.

In Montgomery County, for example, Bethesda Cares is just one of nine organizations that target separate geographic areas.

Here are the numbers to call to get started. If you don't see what you're looking for here, consult the blue government pages of the phone book for your area.

District

Department of Human Services' "Answers, Please!" Line: 202-463-6211

Maryland

Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services: 240-777-4400

Howard County Community Action Council: 410-313-6440

Prince George's County Department of Social Services: 301-209-5000

Virginia

Arlington County Housing Information Center: 703-228-3765

Alexandria Office of Community Services: 703-838-0901

Fairfax County Department of Human Services: 703-222-0880

Loudoun County Department of Social Services: 703-777-0353

Prince William County Department of Social Services: 703-792-7648