Almost a quarter of a million Australians - or one in 98 people - requested help from welfare agencies because they were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, according to figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released on Tuesday.
Of the 230,000 asking for help, 44 per cent were homeless and 56 per cent were judged as at risk of homelessness.
The Specialist Homelessness Services Collection annual report for 2011-12 reveals that welfare groups are struggling to keep up with demand, with one-fifth of requests for crisis accommodation unable to be met.
The report comes a month after Australian Bureau of Statistics figures revealed that homelessness had risen by 8 per cent over the past five years, despite a federal government goal to halve homelessness by 2020.
Chief executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, Michael Perusco, said lack of affordable housing was forcing more people into homelessness.
"These results along with the increase in homelessness which were shown in the the census figures should be a cause for concern," he said.
"They demonstrate that more work needs to be done to reduce the impact of the housing affordability crisis.
"We have a housing system which is broken and needs fundamental reform if we are to see a real reduction in homelessness."
Executive leader of community services at Mission Australia, James Toomey, said the private rental market in metropolitan areas was off limits for anyone receiving government benefits.
"The vast majority of properties on the private rental market are not affordable for anyone on government benefits," he said.
"If someone loses their job, they can very easily be tipped into homelessness. The door literally closes on you. We are getting further and further away from halving homelessness by 2020."
Calls for assistance were most acute in Victoria where 76,590 people requested help, followed by New South Wales with 53,532 requiring support.
Roughly equal numbers of men and women were already homeless when they asked for help but women outnumbered men who were at risk of homelessness.
Men who were homeless when they got help were twice as likely to be sleeping without shelter as homeless women.
Children and young people were over-represented among those who received help, with children aged under 17 making up almost one-third of those who got support, despite comprising only 23 per cent of the general population.
The main reason for seeking support was financial difficulty, accounting for 39 per cent of people, followed by domestic violence which accounted for 32 per cent.
About 1500 agencies that provide specialist homelessness services across Australia provided figures for the report under a new data collection system which started in July 2011.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare spokesman Geoff Neideck said 18 per cent of rough sleepers, 26 per cent of people in temporary accommodation and 22 per cent of those in insecure housing were assisted into stable accommodation.
"The good news is that services have been delivered for many clients," he said.