This year the waiting list for social housing in Tamworth has added nearly 100 people, from 452 last year to 547 by the latest count.
Statistics released by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) show the number of people in Tamworth considered "priority" has more than doubled from 29 to 68.
Homes North senior housing manager Nicholas Grimes told the Leader sky-high rents and an ongoing cost of living crisis are putting strain on the not-for-profit community housing organisation.
"The priority list has grown significantly because we've got so much more demand," Mr Grimes said.
"With more demand you're bound to have more complex issues come through as well."
He said complex cases include residents with disabilities, drug and alcohol addictions, mental health concerns, and other issues that require the assistance of a case worker.
Mr Grimes said Tamworth doesn't have enough case workers nor houses to fix the region's growing homelessness problem.
"There's a lot more people coming through the door that have never needed our service before," he said.
"We are just struggling to keep up with the demand with the number of houses we've got."
When residents have absolutely nowhere else to go, Homes North puts them in a motel until a long-term property becomes available.
"This time last year we had about 20 people in motels. As of today we've got 65 rooms taken up," Mr Grimes said.
He said many of these people are on the state government's priority list.
To get priority, a person experiencing homelessness must interview and demonstrate they are in urgent need of housing and are unable to rent privately.
Applicants must also show that they have tried to find accommodation in the private rental market before being considered for priority housing.
But Mr Grimes says even these applicants have started spending 100 days or more in motel rooms due to bottlenecks in the supply of social housing.
"Even on the priority list there's a significant wait because we just don't have the housing stock for people," he said.
Wait times are even longer for general applicants.
According to the DCJ, the average wait for social housing in New England is about two years, but Tamworth Family Support Services (TFSS) service manager Lynda Townsend says the wait is often longer for families.
"To get a mum and her children into a three-bedroom home, the time on the wait list is quite significant," Ms Townsend said.
She said in some cases finding a suitable three-or-more-bedroom home can take five to seven years.
Ms Townsend said the problem is only getting worse as a spike in domestic violence pushes more women into seeking refuge from TFSS.
"This year specifically we've seen a lot of women and children coming through that are experiencing homelessness," she said.
"We know that domestic and family violence is a significant contributing factor to homelessness, and that's certainly something we have seen growing back above pandemic-era levels."
And the longer people are left waiting, the more likely it is for their situation to worsen.
"We've got mums with kids forced to sleep in their cars, we've got families that are sleeping on riverbanks, people that are set up in makeshift camps because they can't find a home," Ms Townsend said.
Both TFSS and Homes North are working with Tamworth Regional Council (TRC) on the local government's new 20-year housing strategy.
A public survey to inform the strategy is open on TRC's website until December 12, 2023.
TRC's manager of future communities Andrew Spicer told the Leader the survey and draft strategy both include provisions for social housing.
But he said the strategy's main goal is to increase supply of many types of housing so that prices become more affordable across the board.
"Homelessness is a big issue, but a lot of people are under housing stress, even those with moderate incomes," Ms Spicer said.
"Everybody says the housing is a tight situation, and it's true. The market for rental accommodation in particular is very tight."