HUNTER homelessness service providers have welcomed a street count of rough sleepers in Newcastle later this month, but they say the information will be the "tip of the iceberg" of a growing problem.
As part of the Berejiklian government's bid to halve street homelessness by 2025, large-scale street counts of rough sleepers are set to begin in major regional and rural areas, including Newcastle.
Samaritans chief executive Brad Webb said the data would be valuable, and it would likely reveal what service providers already know - that homelessness is increasing.
"I welcome the count - I think regional data helps give us a bit more of a snapshot and context to the state and national statistics," he said.
"But rough sleeping is only the visible expression of homelessness."
Mr Webb said the Australian Bureau of Statistics' definition of homelessness included couch-surfing, staying temporarily in other households, boarding houses, and living in severely overcrowded dwellings.
"So that broader definition is the iceberg, and rough sleeping is the tip of that," he said. "We are seeing an increase in people presenting either in homelessness, or at risk of homelessness... and people presenting with cost of living pressures, suffering financial crisis, experiencing unemployment, and underemployment."
In 2016, data showed there were about 2700 homeless people living in the Hunter New England area, a 12 per cent increase since 2011. In Newcastle, there were about 800 homeless people in 2016 - an increase of around 22 per cent since 2011.
Mr Webb said the main issue underpinning homelessness was a lack of social and affordable housing.
"At some point, we have just got to build more appropriate accommodation for people to be living in," he said.
"The tidal wave people talk about - which I don't think we've fully seen yet - is the growth of older women experiencing homelessness as a result of marriage breakdown late in life, the lack of superannuation and individual wealth and financial planning. It means we're going to see an increased number of older women, and that will be a shock for society to grapple with. It's going to be a big issue, another tsunami of people."
Mr Webb said raising the rate of Newstart was a "no brainer".
Karen Soper, manager of the Matthew Talbot Homeless Centre, said they welcomed any work that would shine a light on the people sleeping rough, and any efforts to get them immediate access to housing and wrap-around services to connect them back into the community.