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Vancouver police won't force homeless into shelters: Chief Chu

Vancouver police officers won't use force to take homeless people to shelters during extreme weather, Police Chief Jim Chu said Monday.

VPD officers will use only "minimal non-forceful touching" to persuade a homeless person to seek shelter during extreme weather, Chu told reporters. He described such touching as equal to the support a person would use in helping an elderly person cross the street.

"If the person refuses that assistance, we will withdraw the contact immediately," Chu said.

B.C.'s new Assistance to Shelter Act empowers officers to take homeless people to shelters during "extreme" weather, such as periods of cold (below minus two degrees Celsius) or wet (freezing rain) weather.

Such "Extreme Weather Alerts" were issued for a total of 37 nights between December 12, 2008 and March 11, 2009.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman has said the Assistance to Shelter Act was drafted in response to the cold-weather deaths of mentally ill or addicted homeless individuals who refused to enter emergency homeless shelters.

Downtown Eastside activists have dubbed it the "Kidnap the Homeless Act," and suspect it will be used as a way to sweep homeless people off the streets during the 2010 Winter Games.

Other laws still allow police to force homeless individuals to shelters if they are under-age, intoxicated or fit criteria under the Mental Health Act.

There are between 10,000 and 15,000 homeless people living in B.C., according to researchers. A homeless British Columbian dies every 12 days, on average, according to statistics complied by the B.C. Coroner's office.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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