The number of people in England requesting help because of homelessness increased by 15% over the past year - the first hike in the figures since 2003/04.
Charities are blaming financial pressures caused by the recession and its aftermath for the growing problem.
Official figures showed that 102,200 people applied to be recognised as homeless in 2010/11, up from 89,120 the year before. Councils accepted 44,160 applications, up 10% from the previous year's 40,020.
According to analysis by Homeless Link - an umbrella organisation representing 500 homelessness charities - the total number of applications has swollen for the fifth consecutive quarter, from 21,410 in the first three months of 2010 to 26,400 in the same period of 2011. Some areas have experienced jumps of 50% or more in numbers of applications.
Meanwhile, the number of applications accepted by councils has fallen to 43% - the lowest rate since 1999 - while the proportion of households found to be homeless but "not in priority need" continues to increase from 15% in 2008 to 21% in the first quarter of 2011.
Some 48,240 households were in temporary accommodation on March 31 - 6% lower than the same date last year.
Jenny Edwards, the chief executive of Homeless Link, said: "The recession is bound to lead to more people not having a home and local authorities in some areas are coping with increased demand. However, we need to ask what happens to homeless people when councils turn them away.
"When people experience financial problems, they need effective help not a closed door, even if they are not defined as being a 'priority'. We need to prevent people from facing the alternative of illegal lets, staying with friends or squats. We know these are often the last stop before the streets.
"At a time when funding for frontline homelessness services has been cut in many areas and some services are closing, we need a clearer duty for councils to offer effective advice and information to help people who are homeless but not offered accommodation.
"The fall in the number of people in temporary accommodation is welcomed but we need to invest in preventing homelessness in the first place. This makes sense for individuals without a home and society as a whole."