The number of homeless families in Whanganui has increased "significantly" in the past year, Salvation Army transitional housing social worker Scott Taylor Moore says.

He couldn't give a number. But the Ministry of Social Development's June figures say 87 households are looking for accommodation.

Of those 73 are at risk and in severe and persistent need. The others are in serious housing need.

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The Salvation Army has responded by finding seven houses where families can stay for three months. While there they get help from a social worker "to get their lives back on track".

One very proactive family stayed four months, took good care of the house and found their own long term rental through Trade Me, Taylor Moore said.

The Salvation Army also gives out food parcels. It aims to cater for physical, mental and social needs, as well as spiritual needs.

After families find long term accommodation the social worker will continue to work with them for another three months.

It has been a struggle to find rental houses for the families, Taylor Moore said.

There are 10 or more people vying for every available rental, and his clients can be subject to discrimination.

Some of the rentals are also substandard.

"We are quite keen to see if there is any warrant of fitness to housing that's rented."

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His clients could be solo parents, or grandparents with varying numbers of children.

They became homeless through tragedies such as fires, or through family breakdowns. Often they are anxious.

"It's very difficult to be thinking about quality of life and moving on as a family when you are worried about where you are going to be sleeping this night."

The Ministry of Social Development finds interim accommodation for people who are homeless, and it funds the Salvation Army's transitional housing service.

A different group of homeless are the "rough sleepers" - people sleeping in the foyers of Whanganui buildings or in parks. There are some, often with mental health or addiction issues, who live on the streets by choice, Taylor Moore said.

The Salvation Army is holding a meeting next week to talk to Whanganui's many other housing agencies about solutions for homelessness.

"We are all in this together," Taylor Moore said.

++ Whanganui's Salvation Army Majors Glenn and Claire Anderson have retired after 27 years and are moving to Pātea. The Whanganui Salvation Army base will have a new Major in January, Taylor Moore said.

He has lived in Whanganui for four years and previously worked in probation, and as a social worker in forensics, HIV, physical disability and hospitals.