VANCOUVER - The head of Vancouver's extreme weather response for the homeless expressed reservations Sunday about a B.C. government suggestion to force homeless people into shelters when it's bitterly cold outside.

Grant Gayman, Vancouver extreme weather response co-ordinator, declined to address the civil liberties aspects of a proposal from B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman.

But he said there were practical problems that came immediately to mind.

Gayman was commenting on a recent suggestion from Housing Minister Rich Coleman that would give police the power to force homeless people into shelter when the temperature is bitterly cold.

The minister said the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver police have requested such powers.

The debate was sparked recently by the recent cold snap and the death outside of a 47-year-old homeless woman who refused offers of shelter.

Her makeshift shelter caught fire Dec. 19 in the city's West End and she burned to death.

"There's a real practical problem in that, what do the shelters do when they're delivered a guest that doesn't want to stay?" said Gayman.

"We already have situations where people come into shelters and in the middle of the night and they want to leave even though it's sub-zero temperatures and clearly they're at risk."

He said shelter staff try to encourage people to stay "but if they want to leave, they leave."

Shelter staff, said Gayman, are unlikely to be equipped to require them to stay.

Police and paramedics already have powers under the Mental Health Act to take a person to a psychiatric ward if he or she is deemed to be mentally ill, said Gayman.