The report People Need Homes warns that Government proposals to remove the duty of town halls to provide permanent homes for the homeless will lead to increased poverty, homelessness and benefit dependency. And it predicts that "many thousands" of homeless families will be plunged into greater misery.
The survey was carried out by the Churches National Housing Coalition - an umbrella group of more than 500 churches, charities and housing organisations. It is based on interviews with more than 250 homeless people, and information from 110 hostels drawn together by church groups in 18 towns and cities across Britain.
Over 150,000 people were accepted as homeless last year - a figure which excludes most homeless people who are single or childless. The equivalent of a town the size of Brighton - some 50,000 households were living in temporary accommodation at the end of 1994.
Just under a third of those questioned for the report had slept rough at some point in the last six months. Less than half had slept in only one place and the rest had slept in up to eight different types of accommodation.
For the majority of the respondents, just over 85 per cent, their main source of income was state benefits. About one in ten was able to get some sort of work, and for about one in 20 state benefits were supplemented by begging, donations from friends or relatives or from selling The Big Issue.
The report says that projects which homeless people turn to in the first instance - hostels, night shelters, soup runs and day centres - are struggling to cope with the increasing numbers coming to them for help. Of 83 hostels and projects questioned with a total capacity of 2,358 beds, they estimated in the week before the survey they had helped 2,863 people - 21 per cent greater than the number of beds they had to offer.
Homeless families at the present time benefit from the protection of existing homelessness legislation. Local authorities have a duty to provide families both with temporary accommodation and priority access to permanent housing.
But the churches say that if current homelessness legislation goes through, the situation for homeless people will become much worse, with families staying longer in temporary accommodation "and the likelihood of permanent damage being done to health, schooling or indeed the family bond itself."
"No one should be under any impression that homelessness is a quick or easy route into permanent council or housing association tenancy," the report added. "Nor on the evidence of this research is it true to say that homeless people are "jumping the housing queue" and forcing other "more deserving" people to wait longer on the council waiting list."
The Churches National Housing Coalition also criticised the government's proposals to expand the private sector in housing homeless people. It pointed out that the areas where housing is most needed - principally the south of England - is also the place where rents are highest. As a result councils will either be unable to find private accommodation for homeless families - or will only be able to do so at the cost of leaving them in a deep poverty trap.
The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Rev John Gladwin said at the launch: "It should be the clear and unambiguous aim of all public policy on housing to seek adequate and affordable housing for all our people. No other considerations should stand in the way of this overriding moral imperative."
And Robina Rafferty, director of the Catholic Housing Aid Scoeity said: "Homeless families should not be forced to remain in a damaging state of limbo for any longer than necessary and should rightly retain priority within council waiting lists. Even at this late stage we therefore call on the government to reconsider the inclusion of the homelessness proposals in the forthcoming Housing Bill."