Manitoba

Resident who set fire at Morberg House while suffering meth psychosis is welcome to return to shelter

A man who set fire to a room in a transitional housing shelter will be allowed to return to live there — once he completes an addiction recovery program.

Fire was caused by psychosis, not the 'kind, gentle' man, says shelter director

Mike (CBC has agreed not to reveal his last name) is a recovering meth addict. In January, in the throes of meth psychosis, he set fire to his room at Morberg House, a Winnipeg transitional housing shelter. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

A man who set fire to a room in a Winnipeg transitional housing shelter will be allowed to return to live there — once he completes an addiction recovery program.

And the man who set the fire says meth addicts in the province need more help.

Morberg House director Marion Willis says he'll be welcomed back to the shelter because she recognizes the fire was the act of the methamphetamine addiction, and not the man.

"We know the difference between the person and the meth psychosis," Willis said. "The person himself is a very kind, gentle man."

On Jan. 7, a  32-year-old man set fire to his room at Morberg House and escaped through his third-floor window. No one was injured in the fire, which was quickly extinguished by other residents.

Inside a top-floor suite of Morberg House following a January fire set by Mike, who at the time was suffering from meth psychosis. 'I thought another person in the house was trying to hurt me.... So I started the fire to allow myself time to escape. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was so real to me,' he says. (CBC News)

Mike, whose last name the CBC agreed not to reveal due to safety concerns, was under the influence of meth when he set the fire.

"I am so sorry about what I did," Mike, speaking publicly about the fire for the first time, told CBC News. He is now clean and in a recovery program.

A lot of people going through meth psychosis, they just turn you away.- Mike, recovering from meth addiction

"It was a terrible thing to do, to probably the nicest person in the world," he said, referring to Willis. 

"And now she is going to let me return there. That would be more than I feel like I deserve."

At the time of the fire, Mike was in the throes of a meth psychosis, during which an addict can feel paranoid and delusional, and can hallucinate.

Mike himself was hearing voices and believed his life was in imminent danger, he said. 

Mike, seen here with Morberg House director Marion Willis. 'We know the difference between the person and the meth psychosis,' Willis says. 'The person himself is a very kind, gentle man.' (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

"I thought another person in the house was trying to hurt me. My head was spinning … you know? 'I'm gonna die in here,'" he recalled thinking.

"So I started the fire to allow myself time to escape. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was so real to me."

After the incident, Morberg House staff took him to the hospital, but he was not admitted because he was in the midst of meth psychosis. As a result, he was left homeless and still under the influence.

Willis said that's a familiar scenario.

"I see an awful lot of people who aren't able to get into detox, who aren't able to get into treatment," she said.

Mike concurs.

"A lot of people going through meth psychosis, they just turn you away," he said. "It's like they don't want to help you."

Facts vs. myths on meth? Watch our explainer:

Frontline workers look at who's most affected by meth addiction and tackle some of the myths around meth psychosis. 2:58

Weeks after setting the fire, with the help of his probation officer, Mike managed to access a detox program and then a residential treatment program, through the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba. 

He wishes there were more programs like it, specifically targeting meth addiction.

"You can't just stop [the addiction], you can't just use self-talk to turn it off," he said. "It's a scary-ass thing and there's not enough help for it. It's very poorly understood by people, it seems."

In January, the province told CBC the province continues to invest in additional resources — including a $985,000 budget increase to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.

In 2017, the province also commissioned an external review of its mental health and addictions programs. A report based on that review was completed in the fall of 2017 and was scheduled to be released in December.

In April, a spokesperson for Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen told the CBC that report is now scheduled to be released in May. 
Mike, a former resident at Moburg House, set fire to his room while under the influence of meth. Clean about nine weeks now, he recently met up with the shelter's director Marion Willis for the first time since the fire. 2:04

On April 25, CBC Manitoba is hosting a special CBC Asks town hall event, called "Breaking Meth; What's needed to beat the crisis in Canada?" To preregister, click here. You can also join the conversation on April 25, starting at 6:30 p.m., on Twitter using the hashtag #CBCMBAsks.