Growing problem ... the rate of homelessness continues to rise in Australia. Photo: Kate Geraghty
The rate of homelessness in Australia rose eight per cent between 2006 and 2011, despite public funding of $1.1 billion as part of a Federal Government promise to halve homelessness by 2020.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released on Monday showed that there were 105,237 people who were homeless on August 9, 2011, or 0.49 per cent of the population, with 60 per cent of those people under the age of 35.
In 2006, there were 89,728 homeless people in Australia, or 0.45 per cent of the population.
Groups that provide support to the homeless said the figures highlight how the federal and state governments must urgently renew their commitment to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH).
Funding for the agreement winds up in June. State ministers are due to meet with federal Housing Minister Brendan O'Connor on Friday to discuss the future of the agreement, which has provided support to 180 services nationally.
Michael Perusco, chief executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society in NSW, said the rise was due in part to the number of people living in crowded, insecure accommodation because they could not afford the private rental market.
"These figures show the true extent of the housing crisis and how hard it is for people to find safe and affordable accommodation," he said.
"They should not be used as an opportunity to criticise the federal government's goal to halve homelessness by 2020. What it does highlight is the urgency to continue reforms and investment."
Jenny Smith, chief executive of Victoria's Council to Homeless Persons, said she was disappointed to see the figure rise, but said people facing homelessness would have fared worse without the public funding investment.
"Given the GFC and the cost of housing, perhaps the efforts that have been made have kept that increase lower than it otherwise would have been," she said.
"Given the figures, we would hope our federal state and territory ministers will renew their commitment when they meet on Friday."
Mission Australia has expressed concern that homelessness is a growing problem in the south-east of NSW, exacerbated by years of drought and lack of housing.
Mission Australia's Community Connections program works mainly in the south-east of NSW and is funded under the NPAH. In its first year, it supported 468 people who were either homeless or at risk of homelessness.
One of those helped was 22-year-old Goulburn woman Amber Clarke, who had been sleeping rough in Sydney following the breakdown of her marriage.
The English-born woman had no family or friends to turn to when her former husband became violent to her and her pets.
"One day he threatened my puppy and kitten," she said. "That was the reason why I left. I thought, 'What kind of person would hurt an innocent puppy or kitten?' If he would do that, what would he do to me?
"Homelessness was a big issue for me. I didn't have anyone to turn to. My family kept telling me to come home (to the UK), but this was something I had got myself into, so I felt like I had to get myself out of it."
She found crisis accommodation with the help of Community Connections and now has a full-time job in Canberra.