Record numbers of homeless people have been counted living on the streets of Melbourne, as help services strain under fresh demand created by a "perfect storm" of economic and social pressures in Victoria.
In recent years Melbourne City Council's regular survey of rough sleepers has found a relatively stable homeless population of about 100 people. But the most recent survey has revealed an unexpected 40 per cent increase since the last count in 2012.
A total of 142 homeless people were recorded on a drizzly but mild winter day in June this year. That is the biggest number in the survey's six-year history.
Volunteers also noticed a large number of people sleeping outside the traditional count area, including in public toilets in Docklands and Royal Park, meaning the actual figure is likely to be much higher.
Key homeless services say the count results are evidence of a wider, worrying trend.
"I think there has been a serious shift into homelessness," Youth Projects chair Melanie Raymond said. "Anyone who visits the city has noticed it. You would have to have blinkers on not to."
The Youth Projects centre, based in Hosier Lane, recorded 280 unregistered homeless clients in a month-long period in June this year, a threefold increase in just 12 months.
More than half of the homeless people noted in this year's council count were sleeping on the street or in a park. About 45 per cent were living in a semi-permanent camp, having lived at the same location for two months or more.
This year also saw a record number of young people aged 25 and under sleeping rough — a total of 19. However many young men in particular may not have been recorded. Melbourne City Mission says they are seeking shelter in places they cannot be easily spotted, in an attempt to escape attacks from drunken weekend revellers.
In December last year the charity's youth crisis centre was hit with its busiest period in six years.
Melbourne City Council has found that while most homeless people are in contact with charities for emergency services such as soup kitchens, they are not getting help to leave the streets.
The majority of rough sleepers are not registered for public housing; those that are tend to languish on the waiting list for months or years.
There's plenty of accommodation if you want to pay $300 a week, but if you only get paid $400 a week that is pretty unaffordable.
The St Vincent de Paul Society has 547 people on its waiting list for housing in inner and north-west Melbourne. That number is growing by 30 people every month.
VincentCare chief executive John Blewonski said the mounting demand was being created by a perfect storm of complex factors, including a surge in women fleeing family violence and the rising cost of housing in comparison with welfare payments.
Homeless man Ben has spent the best part of 19 years on the street and believes the cost of rent is the big problem for many.
"There's plenty of accommodation if you want to pay $300 a week," he said. "But if you only get paid $400 a week that is pretty unaffordable."
Ben says Melbourne is the best city in Australia to sleep rough, because of easy access to services including food vans and free medical help. He said occasionally strangers would even give him blankets or throw him a $10 note.
"But we're not here to scab off people. We're here until something else comes along," he said.