The black spray paint used to scrawl graffiti on the Capitol's granite pillars may have blackened the public's sympathy toward the plight of the homeless.

That is the fear of Dixie L. Minson, who has worked the past few months with organizations representing the homeless to increase public awareness of "the heart-wrenching problem of families living in the streets." As the governor's chief of constituent services, it's her job to help discontented groups find peaceful solutions to their problems.The timing of the graffiti incident couldn't be worse, she said.

New on 1988 income tax returns is a box taxpayers can check to contribute to a statewide homeless trust fund.

"But each time a taxpayer walks up the stairs of the Capitol and is confronted with the ugly, destructive graffiti, he may think, `Why should I contribute to such a destructive group?' "

While no names of suspects have been released, Minson feels sure the graffiti is not the work of reputable groups representing the homeless. She believes a "very sick" individual or group - who does not speak for the homeless - is responsible.

The graffiti found on the Capitol steps and pillars reads "Hear our cries" and "10 minutes for the homeless." Investigators believe the vandalism occurred after midnight Friday when the Capitol dome lights were turned off.

Handling dissenters is part of Minson's job. Most protest through peaceful demonstrations. During the just-concluded legislative session, many groups expressed legitimate demands for more money, through non-violent, non-destructive protest.

"Everyone has a right to dissent and express opinions, but no one has the right to destroy public property and deface a beautiful building," Minson said.

She expects most Utahns will react to the vandalism the way she did - with disgust, anger and fear that a group capable of committing such a destructive act may be capable of further violence.

Minson asks Utahns not to condemn the homeless. Most homeless are women and children who need and appreciate help. She thinks of the faces of a young family that recently turned to her for assistance in finding shelter. The family, a mother and four children, had been kicked out of their home by an abusive husband.

Various solvents were tested Friday on the black writing, but nothing worked. Sandblasting could damage the granite. While official estimates of the cost of repair have not been made, Minson said it likely will cost at least $20,000.

She will press for the prosecution of individual or group responsible.

"Everyone in the state has been robbed because of this. Just as an individual suffers a sense of violation when his personal property is stolen or destroyed, this vandalism of our state Capitol violates the dignity of all of us."