What is a Health Contact Centre (Overdose Prevention Site)?

    The proposed Health Contact Centre would incorporate an overdose prevention site and other harm reduction services. It would provide a clean, consistent, safe and welcoming environment in which individuals could consume their own drugs witnessed by people who care about their safety and security. The primary aim of the centre would be to reduce death and harm associated with substance use; increase access to witnessed consumption; offer harm reduction supplies and education; provide take home naloxone kits and training; and facilitate drug checking to assist individuals to be informed about what is in their substances.

    What is the need for a Health Contact Centre in New Westminster?

    The following bullets provide information as to the need for a Health Contact Centre, with particular reference to New Westminster:

    • In British Columbia, approximately five people die each day from contaminated or toxic drugs.
    • In New Westminster, over 100 people have died due to contaminated or toxic drugs since the declaration of a public health emergency in 2016. (Please see Table #1.)
    • About 70% of those dying from contaminated or toxic drugs are aged 30 to 59 years, and 81% are males.
    • About 84% of illicit drug overdose deaths occur inside (55% in private residences and 28% in other residences, including emergency shelters, single room occupancy hotels, and social and supportive housing units) and 15% occur outside in parks, on sidewalks and streets, and in vehicles.

    Table #1: Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths between 2014 and 2020

    Area and statistic







    2014-2019 (% change)

    2020 (Jan-Nov only)

    New West - deaths









    New West - death rate









    BC - deaths









    BC - death rate









    *BC Government Coroners Service and BC Stats Population Estimates, 2019

    Since November 2016, the New Westminster Fire Department has administered naloxone to 253 people, with about 90% gaining consciousness. The frequency of bystander administered naloxone continues to increase, which speaks to the efforts of the New Westminster Overdose Community Action Team. Since July 2018, 45% of overdose incidents in which the Department attended, bystanders had administered naloxone prior to arrival.

    Overdose prevention sites are an effective model for preventing overdose deaths. To date, there have been no overdose deaths at such sites in British Columbia. Currently, New Westminster does not have an overdose prevention site, and this has been identified as a major gap in harm reduction and overdose prevention services.

    What would be the benefits for the neighbourhood and the community?

    Substance use, and the risk of overdose, affects people from diverse backgrounds. While overdose risk is more prevalent and visible for persons who are homeless, the majority of overdose events are occurring in private residences. One concern that has been raised by residents and the local business community are improperly discarded needles, and the presence of individuals using substances in public.

    The evidence suggests that a Health Contact Centre, which incorporates an overdose prevention site and other harm reduction services, would decrease the number of improperly discarded needles, and reduce the number of individuals using substances in public.

    There would also be reduced demand on Bylaw Enforcement, Fire and Police response, with its associated cost savings to the City of New Westminster, and reduced demand on the health care system, including ambulance and emergency services. 

    Who would be served by a Health Contact Centre?

    The proposed Health Contact Centre would serve anyone who wants to have their drugs checked and their use witnessed; therefore reducing the risks to them of ingesting or injecting contaminated or toxic drugs. For individuals under 19 years of age, they would receive extra support and additional assessment measures if they agree to receiving services.

    The proposed Health Contact Centre would offer a number of value added services above and beyond an overdose prevention site. These would include a health clinic for youth and adults; mental health and counselling services; peer support workers; housing supports and referral; digital inclusion services; food security programming; and laundry and shower facilities. As such, the centre would serve the broad range of individuals who may be engaging in substance use, as well as anyone looking to be connected to any of the services and supports listed above. 

    Are there Health Contact Centres in other jurisdictions and what has been the experience?

    Overdose prevention sites, which offer witnessed consumption, have been instrumental in preventing death and harm associated with overdose, while increasing initiation of substance use treatment, decreasing injection-related litter, and reducing Hepatitis C and HIV transmission. They are also associated with no increase in drug use or drug-related crime.

    What is the policy framework in support of a Health Contact Centre?

    The following City plans and policies are supportive of a Health Contact Centre:

    Council’s Strategic Plan (2019) includes the following strategic direction and action:

    • Take a lead role in responding to the opioid epidemic, including coordinating actions with City partners.
    • Continue to participate on the Overdose Community Action Team, including its working groups, and identify actions in which the City can take a lead or prominent role.

    The Our City Official Community Plan (2017) includes the following policy:

    • Foster a community that proactively addresses health issues and facilitates healthy built environments.

    What previous City Council direction has been provided with regard to a Health Contact Centre?

    At the Regular Council Meeting of July 13, 2020, Council endorsed the following two recommendations:

    • That Council direct staff to work with Fraser Health to explore an Overdose Prevention Site in New Westminster.
    • That Council direct staff to work with Fraser Health, with input from the New Westminster Overdose Community Action Team, to explore a Safe Supply Program in New Westminster. 

    Who is the non-profit operator and why were they selected?

    The Lower Mainland Purpose Society is the non-profit operator of the proposed Health Contact Centre. The society has its headquarters in New Westminster; has been accredited since 2003; and has a history and reputation for providing quality social services that meet identified community needs.

    In addition to being selected to provide safe and witnessed consumption services, the society offers a number of complementary programs, services and supports, including:  

    • drug checking;
    • education and information on safer drug use;
    • harm reduction supplies;
    • neighbourhood sweeps for inappropriately discarded needles;
    • peer advocacy, employment and support services;
    • referral to treatment facilities and support after treatment;
    • take home naloxone kits and training;
    • digital inclusion services;
    • food security programming and nutritional advice;
    • housing supports and referral;
    • laundry and shower facilities;
    • mental health and counselling services; and,
    • primary health care services.

    What was the process for selection of the non-profit operator?

    The Fraser Health Authority issued a request for proposals, which solicited interest by qualified non-profit service providers to submit a proposal for consideration. Following the receipt of submissions, Fraser Health evaluated and assessed each proposal, including a presentation by the service provider. Following a rigorous review process, the evaluation panel identified the Lower Mainland Purpose Society as the successful non-profit operator of the proposed Health Contact Centre in New Westminster.

    Who is the funder and would there be funding and operating agreements in place between the funder and non-profit operator?

    The Fraser Health Authority is the funder of the proposed Health Contact Centre and there would be a contract in place between Fraser Health and the Lower Mainland Purpose Society, who is the selected non-profit operator. Fraser Health, as part of its contract, would outline specific performance deliverables and would conduct regular service and financial reviews of the society.

    Would there be a Neighbourhood Risk Mitigation Plan?

    The Fraser Health Authority, as part of the request for proposals, required all proponents to provide a Neighbourhood Risk Mitigation Plan. The Lower Mainland Purpose Society, who is the selected non-profit operator, would be responsible for operationalizing the plan, monitoring its effectiveness, and revising it as necessary. Fraser Health and the City would support the operationalization and monitoring of the plan.

    Where would the Health Contact Centre be located?

    The proposed Health Contact Centre would be located at 40 Begbie Street in Downtown New Westminster. (Please see Map #1)

    The site is approximately 808 square metres (8,694 square feet), and is surrounded by mixed use buildings with commercial at grade, often with residential above. On the neighbouring properties to the north of the site are the Arundel Mansion and the Russell Housing Centre, and on the neighbouring property to the south is the Anvil Centre. The Russell Housing Centre includes 16 emergency shelter beds and 40 transitional and supportive housing units. It also accommodates the Seniors Services Society. Alexander Street, at the rear of the site in question, acts as a lane for the site. 

    Map #1: Site Context

    Why is this location appropriate or strategic?

    The proposed Health Contact Centre at 40 Begbie Street would be appropriately and strategically located as it would be well served by public transit, thus accessible to the larger community. (Please see Table #2.) It would also be accessible to those who are homeless or precariously housed, with this population tending to be more highly concentrated in and around the Downtown.

    Table #2: Transit Accessibility

    Transit Facility



    SkyTrain Station

    SkyTrain: 2-5 minutes

    Buses: Approximately 15 minutes

    220 metres (722 feet) to New Westminster Station and bus loop

    The proposed Health Contact Centre at 40 Begbie Street would also contribute to a continuum of housing and support in the Downtown, which would provide an important social safety net. This continuum includes the Cliff Block Residence at 606 Clarkson Street, which is proposed to accommodate a Multidisciplinary Health Clinic and provides 23 transitional and supportive housing units; the New West Drop-In Centre at 658 Clarkson Street, with provides food security and support services; and the Russell Housing Centre, which offers housing support and referral services, provides 16 emergency shelter beds and 40 transitional and supportive housing units, and accommodates the Seniors Services Society. 

    What would be the hours?

    The proposed Health Contact Centre would be open from 3:00 to 11:00 p.m., Monday through Sunday. These hours were designated by the Fraser Health Authority; however, the hours could be adjusted in response demand, funding, and other considerations.

    Would there be line-ups or other issues?

    The Lower Mainland Purpose Society, the selected non-profit operator, is committed to ensuring that there would be no line-ups at the proposed Health Contact Centre and would work with area businesses and residents to address any issues that did arise. Of note, the centre is designed to be a welcoming space and staff would greet and orient individuals to the space and the various services that are available.

    The centre would be staffed by four workers each day. Additionally, a Site Coordinator would be available five days per week to liaise with the City, the Fraser Health Authority, local businesses, community organizations, and residents.

    The society would work with those they serve to be respectful of the neighbourhood, and would do area and neighbourhood sweeps for inappropriately discarded needles. They would also regularly communicate with the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association and the Downtown Residents’ Association, and ensure their contact information is readily accessible should there be any issues.

    Is the Health Contact Centre permitted in the existing zoning (C-4 zone)?

    The proposed Health Contact Centre, which includes an overdose prevention site and other harm reduction services, is not a permitted use in the Downtown Mixed Use Districts (High Density) (C-4) zone. As such, a Zoning Amendment or a Temporary Use Permit is required to permit the proposed use. In reviewing both mechanisms, the Lower Mainland Purpose Society, in consultation with the Fraser Health Authority, decided to apply for a permit.

    What is a Temporary Use Permit?

    A Temporary Use Permit, if approved by City Council, would enable the Lower Mainland Purpose Society to operate the proposed Health Contact Centre for a three-year period subject to the conditions as outlined in the permit. The applicant could also renew the permit for an additional three-year period. During this time, the applicant could apply for a Zoning Amendment, which, if approved by City Council, would enable the society to operate the centre in perpetuity subject to the conditions as outlined in the bylaw.

    What are the opportunities for engagement under a Temporary Use Permit?

    The Temporary Use Permit process requires public engagement, including with the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association and the Downtown Residents’ Association. The City’s COVID-19 interim development review process applies. The interim process was developed in response to the pandemic to enable development applications to move forward for review and for public engagement to be in alignment with Provincial Health Orders. Through the interim process, traditional methods of in-person public consultation are replaced with digital engagement platforms. 

    Given the context of this project, staff recommend combining the applicant-led and the City-led consultation. The consultation process includes the launch of this project webpage and the hosting of a virtual information session, which will be advertised through the mailing of notifications and the posting of notices on CityPage. Telephone discussions will also be accommodated. Overall, the process is designed to be open, transparent, and allow for accurate reporting out. 

    In alignment with the interim development review process, no Opportunity to be Heard would be held. Feedback on the permit application can still be provided to the City by e-mail or mail. The feedback will be provided to City Council prior to consideration of a motion to issue the permit.

    Who would approve the Temporary Use Permit?

    City Council, based on the interim development review process for the Temporary Use Permit and the correspondence received, would make the final decision with regard to the approval of the permit.

    What are the key milestones in the Interim Development Review Process for the Temporary Use Permit?

    Given the increasing numbers of overdose deaths in New Westminster, staff are proposing to expedite the interim development review process for the Temporary Use Permit. 

    The anticipated milestones in this application’s review process are:

    1. Preliminary Report to Council. [January 25, 2021]
    2. Applicant- and City-led joint community and stakeholder consultation, including consultation with the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association and the Downtown Residents’ Association. 
    3. City Council consideration of the Temporary Use Permit, followed by issuance of notice. 
    4. City Council receipt and consideration of feedback received, followed by approval/rejection of the Temporary Use Permit.
    5. Registration of the Temporary Use Permit at the Land Titles Office.

    Who should I contact to find out more information?

    For inquiries about the policy framework, site context, interim development review process and key milestones related to the Temporary Use Permit, please contact:

    City of New Westminster

    John Stark
    Supervisor of Community Planning
    City of New Westminster

    For inquiries related to the funder, operating and funding agreements, and risk mitigation measures, please contact:

    Fraser Health

    For inquiries about Purpose Society, the Health Contact Centre, the services to be provided through the centre and complementary programs and supports offered by the non-profit operator, please contact:

    Lower Mainland Purpose Society

    Lynda Fletcher-Gordon, MSW
    Acting Executive Director
    Lower Mainland Purpose Society
    604-526-2522 (office)

    NEW: Is the City of New Westminster contributing municipal tax dollars to the Health Contact Centre?

    The City of New Westminster will not be contributing to the capital or operating costs of the Health Contact Centre. Fraser Health, with support of the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, will be contributing all funds.

    NEW: Are individuals utilizing the services of the Health Contact Centre permitted to leave the premises while under the influence of drugs?

    NEW: The purpose of the Health Contact Centre is to bring people inside where there would be drug checking and witnessed consumption in order to reduce overdoses and overdose deaths. The Lower Mainland Purpose Society, the non-profit operator, would work to create an inclusive and welcoming environment to encourage people to utilize the services of and to spend time at the centre. The society would also provide a number of wrap-around supports, including referral to community-based drug treatment and support services. Regarding the question, people would be able to leave at any time.

    Currently people use substances unwitnessed and in unsanctioned spaces leaving them at higher risk for overdose and overdose death. Unlike many unsanctioned spaces where people may use substances, Health Contact Centre staff are trained to support people using substances. 

    NEW: Are overdose prevention sites associated with an increase in drug usage and crime?

    When services are implemented in a comprehensive manner, overdose prevention or supervised injection sites can decrease rates of public drug usage, lessen the amount of discarded needles in the surrounding area, and reduce property crime and violence.  When services engage people with lived and living experience from the start of program development, it promotes ownership and connection to the larger community. Such programs work with neighbourhoods to develop risk mitigation plans which include responsive ways to raise and address neighbourhood concerns.  

    Overdose prevention or supervised injection sites are associated with less public drug usage. Such sites are operating in Canada and Western Europe and have been shown to decrease the harm associated with drug usage, including decreasing overdose deaths, lowering transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C, and reducing rates of discarded needles. Additionally, they have not be shown to contribute to increases in drug usage or crime in surrounding neighborhoods. 

    PotierC, Laprevote V, Dubois-Arber F, Cottencin O, Rolland B. Supervised injection services: what has been demonstrated? A systematic literature review. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014;145:48–68. 

    • they reviewed 75 articles about overdose prevention and supervised injection sites and found no increase in drug use or crime in the surrounding neighbourhood.    

    Another study found that the opening of Insite was independently associated with reductions in public injecting, publicly discarded needles, and other injection related litter in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In this observational study, an average of four injections were observed in public spaces each day prior to the opening of Insite, followed by two after its opening. Similarly, 12 needles were found discarded in nearby public spaces each day prior to the opening of Insite, followed by five after its opening. 

    Respondents to a survey about supervised injection sites in Europe reported that the facilities had reduced the incidence of public injecting and injection litter. There was no evidence of increased rates of drug-related criminal offenses and loitering, robberies, or theft in the surrounding neighbourhood following the opening of the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. Five years after its opening, local business owners reported a significant decrease in public injecting and publicly discarded injecting equipment. In the five years after the opening of an unsanctioned supervised injection site in the United States, documented criminal activity decreased rather than increased in the surrounding area.

    Davidson, P.J., Lambdin, B.H., Browne, E.N., Wenger, L.D., Kral, A.H. (2021). Impact of an unsanctioned safe consumption site on criminal activity, 2010-2019.

    NEW: Is the New Westminster Police Department aware of the Health Contact Centre and what is its position related to it?

    The New Westminster Police Department is aware of the Health Contact Centre and it is supportive of any service that can assist the most at-risk and vulnerable populations. Although the Department does not anticipate an increase in criminal activity in the area, it does encourage anyone who witnesses criminal activity to report it and the Department will ensure that the incident is investigated.

    NEW: Will the Health Contact Centre be prescribing pharmaceutical alternatives to individuals utilizing the Health Contact Centre?

    Offering pharmaceutical alternatives to illicit substances was not part of the non-profit operator request for proposals related to services for the Health Contact Services. Fraser Health is continuing to explore opportunities to connect people to pharmaceutical alternatives and utilize provincial risk mitigation prescribing guidelines to support access of Health Canada approved pharmaceutical alternatives in order to provide people with regulated options to the toxic drug supply.