More than 4,000 people a night have been sleeping rough on England's streets, a 16% increase on last year.
Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show more than half of councils in England recorded a rise in rough sleeping compared with the year before.
The homelessness charity Crisis said it was rising at an "appalling rate".
The government said it was determined to help the most vulnerable and was investing £550m to tackle the problem.
Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, said: "Behind these statistics are thousands of desperate people, sleeping in doorways, bin shelters, stations and parks - anywhere they can find to stay safe and escape the elements.
"Rough sleeping ruins lives, leaving people vulnerable to violence and abuse, and taking a dreadful toll on their mental and physical health. Our recent research has shown how rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence. This is no way for anyone to live."
Official figures show rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010, when 1,768 people were recorded.
Outside London, the number of people on the streets rose 20% since 2015, whereas in the capital it was 3%.
There were 174 councils out of 326 who recorded rises.
And for the first time they include details of gender, age and nationality of those seen on the streets.
Separate statistics showed more than 114,000 households in England turned to councils for help in 2015-16 because they were losing their home.
Research by St Mungo's, the homelessness charity, found four in 10 rough sleepers had mental health problems, 41% needed help with alcohol dependency and 31% with drug abuse.
Its chief executive, Howard Sinclair, said cuts in welfare and services covering mental health, drug and alcohol abuse had contributed to the rise.
He said: "There is no single reason. People who end up on the streets are not just homeless and getting somewhere to stay is not the only problem.
"We have seen cuts to services as part of the austerity agenda but also a lack of affordable housing, particularly in the south."
Labour's shadow housing secretary John Healey said: "It is a national scandal that in England in the 21st century the number of people forced to sleep rough on our streets is spiralling upwards - and this is only the tip of the iceberg."
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has committed to invest £50m to help homeless people.
James Murray, deputy mayor for housing and residential development, said: "The figures we use in London show that rough sleeping continues to rise in the capital, which is shameful in one of the richest cities in the world. Sadiq has been clear that it will take a long time to turn things around."
The housing charity Shelter blamed "the lack of affordable homes coupled with cuts to welfare" for the "tragic" situation.
Crisis said there was "no time to waste".
Mr Sparkes added: "We need the government to take action on this issue, and we stand ready to work with officials to plan and deliver an ambitious new approach.
"The government has already shown leadership on plans to expand homelessness prevention, and in light of today's figures, we hope they will now extend this approach to helping those on the street."
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "This government is determined to help the most vulnerable in society, which is why we're investing £550m to 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.
"Homelessness is more than just a housing issue so we are now funding projects in 225 local authorities to help those people at risk of becoming homeless, already sleeping rough or those with complex needs, to get back on their feet."
He said the government was also supporting the Homelessness Reduction Bill, proposed by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, to give people help earlier to avoid becoming homeless in the first place.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils, called for the government to give them powers and funding to build affordable homes.
Councillor Martin Tett, its housing spokesman said: "This is vital to end homelessness."