02/06/2014 10:52 EST | Updated 04/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Record low temperatures raise concerns about homeless

A cold snap continues to grip most of B.C., sending temperatures plunging as low as a record-setting  – 8.3 C early Thursday morning at Vancouver International Airport, and raising concerns about homeless people sleeping out in the cold.

The previous low for Feb 6 was – 7.8 C, set in 1948.

Wind chill warnings remain in place for many parts of the province, including Whistler where strong outflow winds are forecast to send make it feel like –20 C. In Yoho National Park the wind chill value is forecast to make it feel like –40 C.

Environment Canada has also issued a Special Weather Alert forecasting a big snowstorm over the Family Day Long Weekend, but says it is not yet clear when or how severely it will hit.

Concerns about homeless campers

On Vancouver Island the subzero temperatures have prompted Saanich police to step up their bicycle patrols. Officers on bikes are searching for homeless people who are camping in Saanich parks, but it's not always easy to convince people to seek shelter inside.

But Sgt. Alan Gurzinski says he carries a secret weapon — warm hats — in his bike pouches as a way to help break the ice when he tries to engage homeless people living in Saanich parks.            

Gurzinski has seen up to two dozen camps in the summer, but in the winter, he says homeless campers are harder to find.

"They tend to move deeper and deeper into the forest and into the parks so that we have more difficulty finding them in weather like this," he says.

Gurzinski tells them where the temporary extreme weather shelter is, but he admits it's not always easy to convince them to go there.

"A lot of them choose not to use the shelters for any number of reasons...their stuff gets stolen, there's bedbugs, the drug and alcohol abuse that can be in some of them."

Saanich police know they can't force anyone indoors. Five years ago, a homeless man froze to death in a Saanich Park, despite earlier attempts by police to convince him to sleep indoors.