01/16/2012 09:52 EST | Updated 03/17/2012 05:12 EDT

Some homeless refusing shelters in cold snap

Metro Vancouver’s emergency shelter beds will stay open through the snowy and cold winter weather forecast through Wednesday, but some homeless people won't move indoors, even though the extra space has been made available.

There are many possible reasons a person might not choose to go to a shelter, including a bad experience in a shelter in the past, or mental health or addictions issues, said J Stewart, of the Union Gospel Mission.

“You can gently talk to a person, ask them, ‘Can I call somebody for you,’ ‘Can I get you a coffee,’ ‘Can I get you a sandwich,’” said Stewart. “But beyond that it's really, really difficult for an untrained, unskilled person to intersect with somebody who might be going through a myriad of issues.”

There are spaces for people who need them.

"The message we have for anybody sleeping outside is that the conditions are dangerous, the conditions could really pose a health and safety risk,” said Irene Jaakson, Vancouver’s extreme weather response co-ordinator. “So … please come inside to one of those locations."

Clothing needed

There are an extra 200 sleeping mats in Vancouver shelters, as well as 90 spaces in Surrey, 50 in New Westminster and dozens more in other Lower Mainland communities.

No one's been turned away so far at the Union Gospel Mission on East Hastings Street, but staff also know there are people who need help still who won't come inside.

On Monday, volunteers filled several bags with a blanket, a tuque and clean dry socks, all gear which had been donated

"Thank you, Very kind hearted of you," said one homeless man who received the emergency package from a volunteer Monday.

Stewart said the volunteers know how much a simple gesture can mean to people living on the street.

“It can be really, really hard to find a warm, clean place to change in, to get new socks, new shoes,” said Stewart. “You could literally get wet once out here and be in dire straits for a considerable period of time."

The Union Gospel Mission also is in need of more donated winter clothing supplies. A list can be found on their website.