Advocates and former meth users are applauding a decision by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to add six new mental health beds to one of its hospitals.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the health authority said there’s concern about the increasing number of people going to emergency departments experiencing “adverse effects” of crystal meth, explaining that it can translate into aggressive or violent behaviour.

The spokesperson said the six mental health beds were added at Health Sciences Centre to address growing pressures, writing:

“These beds will reduce the length of time that patients with behavioural responses will remain in the emergency department and ensure they are provided with appropriate care in a safer, more therapeutic environment. They were centralized at HSC in order to capitalize on appropriate physical space and appropriately trained staff already available at that location.”

The addition was welcomed by Marion Willis, who founded Morberg House in St. Boniface.

Morberg House provides transitional housing and Willis told CTV News that of the 15 current residents, 13 are crystal meth users or former crystal meth users.

Willis has repeatedly called on the province to look at opening a drug stabilization unit for people experiencing meth psychosis and estimated 10 beds would be a good place to start.

Still, Willis said she was thrilled to hear of the six beds being opened, and looked forward to building on that foundation, with plans to reach out to social workers at HSC.

“To see how we can work together to create a continuum of care,” Willis said.

“So that when people are leaving those beds, they’re leaving linked to services in the community.”

A former crystal meth user, Chris Mitton also applauded the health authority’s decision, but said he’s looking to the next step.

“It’s a great start. It’s amazing. It makes me really happy. But now what follows these six beds?” said Mitton.

Mitton has been clean for 20 months, and was hired by St. Boniface Street Links to provide support through his lived experience.

The Winnipeg man said health authorities must look at providing supports to guide people through recovery with coordinated services.

“I think action needs to be taken right away,” said Mitton.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen wrote:

Work is underway to develop a mental health and addiction strategy to improve the access and coordination of services in Manitoba and we expect recommendations this March. We are also working with stakeholders and department officials to develop proposals for Manitoba’s share of Federal Mental Health and Addictions funding.