A Salvation Army leader in central Victoria says the number of people sleeping rough in Bendigo has increased to the highest levels seen in recent years.
Major Andrew Walker made the comments as the welfare agency released new survey results highlighting the difficulties facing those trying to find affordable housing.
The survey of people getting help from the Salvos across Australia found 83 per cent were spending more than half of their household income on housing.
"There is definitely an increase in people sleeping rough - it's probably the worst I've seen it in my six years living in Bendigo," Major Walker said.
"I think that's partly to do with a real shortage of housing, and I think partly to do with declining mental health.
"The exodus from Melbourne into the regions is really putting a lot of pressure on people being able to find low-cost-housing."
Anglicare Victoria published its annual survey of the rental market in April and found there were no affordable properties available for lease for a single person collecting JobSeeker allowance in Greater Bendigo.
Major Walker linked the levels of housing stress and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic to the survey's finding that the number of people concerned about their mental health was also up.
"Often people that are suffering disadvantage are experiencing a lot of uncertainty at the best of times," he said.
"What COVID's done is create a whole other level of uncertainty, especially I think around the housing side of things.
"It's like people do have a fear that if they have to find a new place, will they be able to find somewhere?"
The survey - completed online by 955 people, the Salvation Army said - also found food insecurity was a major problem.
Almost half of those surveyed said 45 per cent were going without meals, while a little over 50 per cent were not able to afford medical or dental bills.
The Salvos said they helped about 36,000 people during 2020 - a figure that was up 22 per cent on the previous year.
Major Walker said demand had grown over the past two months in Bendigo since government payments were scaled back.
"A lot of those people are suddenly struggling majorly again because their payments have gone back to pre-COVID levels," he said.
"By the time they'd paid for their rent, power and so on there's not much left over, if anything in some cases."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: