Residents shocked after homeless couple, dog, found dead in car near Ballarat

UPDATE: A young, homeless couple and their dog have been found dead in their car, apparently killed by a gas heater they were using to keep warm.

Police say the 27-year-old man and 24-year-old woman, both from Ballarat and believed to have been living in the car, were using a butane gas heater to keep the chill away when they died.

Officers found the bodies of the couple and their dog when they checked on the car parked at Smarts Hill Road, near Cardigan, about 9.30pm on Friday. 

It is believed the heater may have contributed to their deaths, which the police are treating as accidental. 

Paramedics were not called to the scene.

Nearby residents are still reeling from the tragedy.

Tarni Gray, who lives on Cuthberts Road, said it wasn't uncommon for cars to be parked in Smarts Hill Road. 

"It does come as a shock for me. Because it is normally quiet around here," Ms Gray said.

"I've seen a few cars parked on Smarts Hill Road that just sit there, and then drive off."

She said the road is well-known for rubbish dumping. 

"All I know is people dump a lot of rubbish there and on Finches Road," she said.

"People have dumped cow carcasses and mattresses there."

Sandra Jones, who also lives on Cuthberts Road near the intersection with Finches Road, said it was a terrible event.

"You know people are doing it tough, but sleeping in a car...," Ms Jones said.

Dr Bruce Redman from the Salvation Army said that "unfortunately, this is not an unheard of situation", and that the most common face of homelessness - someone sleeping rough in a park or in the doorway - only made up a small per cent of homeless people. 

"The Salvos are finding more and more people who are resorting to live in their cars because of a lack of affordable accommodation options," he said. 

"When it's summer, people tend to sleep on the beach or in their cars and no one really notices . But when it's cold, most people expect to have a roof over their heads, somewhere where they can stay warm."

Dr Redman said homelessness in regional cities was becoming a big issue, as people were increasingly leaving major cities like Melbourne in search of work in the country. 

"But when they arrive, they find it hard to rent a house without a job or relevant references, and they don't know any one in the area," Dr Redman said. 

The young couple's tragic deaths have touched the hearts of Victorians, who have taken to social media to express their sympathy.

"This is absolutely devastating. We need to do better," wrote one user. 

Another wrote: "A very sad story. Too many young and out-of-sight Australians are suffering from untold poverty and disadvatange".

Rod Dickson, duty forecaster from the Bureau of Meteorology, said Ballarat had an overnight minimum of 7.6 degrees.

However, wind chill had the air feeling like 4 degrees, he said.

- The Age

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