25
Photo Credit: Dryden Now and Q104

Waiting on Joe

A lot of people have reached out to former NHLer Joe Murphy since the news broke that he is destitute and homeless and living on the streets of Kenora, Ont. I imagine a lot more people will do the same right across the country when his story goes national with the item, Finding Murph, running on TSN tonight.

It’s been 24 days since I wrote about Murphy after seeing an item by Mike Aiken, the news director at Q104 FM Radio in Kenora. I know because of I’ve been counting the days since, expecting the phone to ring after talking to Michael Strecker, who owns the land Murphy has regularly camped on, and leaving my name and phone number to pass along, which he did.

I was sure Joe would remember me from his days playing with the Edmonton Oilers. That aside, I made sure Strecker knew I wasn’t just calling as a writer interested in latching onto Joe’s story, but as somebody working with the Mustard Seed, an organization that exists to help the homeless. We could help him. It’s what we do. Here we are 24 days later. Still no call from Joe.

Well, whether it’s my relative inexperience working with the homeless showing or I’m just naive, what I didn’t consider, what didn’t cross my mind, is we can only help Joe when he decides he wants help. That’s Joe’s call to make, not ours. The same holds true for the thousands of less-famous people not named Joe Murphy living on the street right across the country. We can open the door, but they have to walk through it.

EXTEND A HAND

That truth was driven home Tuesday when I talked with Aiken, who not only was the first to interview Murphy, but has a history of involvement with people in the same situation Joe is in now. Among other things, Aiken was part of an outreach program in Ottawa for 12 years. He’s served on the board of the Kenora Fellowship and Emergency Centre for five years. 

“I guess I’ve seen a fair number of people on the street,” Aiken said. “I have a fair knowledge of the system and how it works here. When I described it as the life of Riley he was living earlier (in his July 7 story), I think that’s still the case. He still seems to be enjoying summer here in the Lake of the Woods area. He works when he needs to. Otherwise, he seems to be enjoying life the way we wants to.

“It’s not, perhaps, living the way that most of us would, but he seems happy and physically healthy. Mentally or emotionally, some people in their life have been through enough or had enough and they just choose to let go of that and simplify things. I get the impression that’s where he’s at.

“I will say that, through the contacts I have here in the community, and I have a number of them, we’ve sort of informally discussed how he’s doing and where he’s at and made a number of offers to him for assistance. Some of them he takes, but in terms of reaching out to the people in his past he doesn’t seem to want to do that at this point. I’ve personally spoken to him and confirmed that he has those contacts, generous offers, but at this point he chooses not to take them up.”

ON THE STREET

For the average person, accepting help and getting off the street seems like an obvious choice. Who wouldn’t want to leave life on the street, life without a home, behind if given the option? The reality in many cases right across the country, though, is that mental health or substance addiction, often both, plays into things.

In recent years, Murphy, who sustained head injuries — concussions and a fractured skull — during his NHL career and was part of a failed attempt to bring a class-action lawsuit against the league, has had a history of erratic behavior. In 2017 he was convicted of mischief and served seven days in jail for trashing a Kingston motel room.

In 2014, while coaching a team in the town of Alliston, Ont., Murphy ending up resigning his position after an altercation that resulted in a no-trespass order being issued against him. While the incident in question was deemed to be non-criminal in nature and no charges resulted, Murphy was banned from all recreational facilities in town.

After watching the TSN special, it’s obvious mental health is an issue with Joe. What about substance abuse? I’m no doctor so I can’t say to what degree the brain trauma Joe sustained playing hockey factors into this, but it does. While Murphy occasionally makes use of a shelter in Kenora, the Ne Chee Friendship Centre, he most often sleeps outdoors, at the acreage he camps on or elsewhere. I’m told Joe spends a lot of time wandering the streets or hanging around a gas station down by the local Wal-Mart.

THE WAY BACK

“In person, when he’s having a good day, he’s happy-go-lucky, happy to talk to you and very sociable,” Aiken said. What about the bad days? “Living on the street is difficult on people. Having head trauma is difficult on people, but I get the impression that there’s something further that’s underlying that . . . I’m thinking that there’s some kind of a mental health situation in there.”

If that’s indeed the case with Murphy, as it seems, what do we do with that? What can we do? Regardless of the reason, including mental health or addiction, if Murphy chooses not to accept help from those who have reached out from right across the country, doesn’t he have that right? Likewise, to choose how and where he lives?

“We’ve been in contact with people over the years and we’re always surprised that when it comes to being housed, they don’t want our help,” said Dean Kurpjuweit, who is the managing director at The Mustard Seed in Edmonton. “For whatever reason, and it’s obviously reasons we have trouble comprehending, some people are just comfortable in that lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle that they are choosing for now.

“That can change. There can often be an occasion where something makes them change their mind, but part of respecting the dignity of people who aren’t housed is respecting the fact that sometimes they choose to live without housing. We have to wait for them to choose something different for their life.”

AN OPEN DOOR

That’s all we can do, and what we must do, with Murphy. We can’t simply start a GoFundMe page or hold a fund-raiser that will solve the problem and make things right. What we can do is be willing and ready to help when Joe is ready to accept it. The same holds true for every single person living on the street. They all matter, even if they don’t make headlines. 

“Part of the Joe Murphy story, I think, that’s significant for all Edmontonians to understand is that this puts a face on something we know within The Mustard Seed, and that’s that anyone can end up homeless,” Kurpjuweit said. “It doesn’t matter your profession. It doesn’t matter your lifestyle. It doesn’t matter how much money you earned.

“There’s a possibility that this can happen to any individual. For me, this shines a light a little bit on that, to what we have in our heads. What circumstances would lead to someone living on the street? I know that stereotype is wrong. Joe’s story really kind of drives that home. It can, truly, happen to anybody.”

We’re here, Joe. So are people right across the country. The door is open.

Previously by Robin Brownlee



  • Thanks for sharing Robin. It’s great to hear of your ongoing work with the Mustard Seed. I feel though (and I think you would agree), that Joe’s situation isn’t unique simply because he was once in the public eye as an NHLer. Every single homeless man, woman and child has a unique story that could use the love, support and interest that Joe has received in the wake of the original story. They all deserve our interest, support, and time. Thanks again!

  • ubermiguel

    I’ve learned a lot about homelessness following Murphy’s story. What is unique about his story is how far he’s fallen. Less than 50 Canadians can lay claim to being the first overall pick for the NHL, he’s a champion in his sport, and he made millions playing hockey, yet he ends up living in a tent in Kenora. Still tough to comprehend.

  • OilCan2

    Ask and it is given. Joe just needs to shift gears and ask to benefit from the surrounding compassion. I get it because I have a family member who has dealt with depression. The good days are great and we just hope they keep coming but you know that black vortex is swirling somewhere beneath ready to draw you in. Without treatment it just lies waiting. My stance is to let each person decide for themselves there by insuring my liberty of choice as well.

  • Rama Lama

    This is truly a sad story for those of us wanting more for him………I would say if he is happy and stress free and truly likes living this lifestyle than who am I to judge?

    We all want to help but sometimes people refuse help or don’t see it as help. Thanks for writing this article, it is fascinating. I wish Joe nothing but the best……..once an Oiler always an Oiler!

  • Etown

    Thanks for the update on this Robin, I hope there’s good news in the near future regarding Joe… As a teenager in Edmonton in the 80’s these guys were my idols, it’s tough to comprehend what Joe is going through, like seeing a hero lose his powers. I personally hope he accepts the help he needs. Thanks again Robin, truly enlightening on the homeless problem, head injuries and the toll it can take.

  • Thanks for the follow up.

    Trying to solve homelessness by using a man’s logic, (men are problem solvers after all), is not the right approach. Forcing help on them surely won’t work and waiting for them to ask for help may not happen. Joe not reaching out for help comes as no surprise. Does he really want accept help from his former hockey buddies?

    People become homeless for various reasons. One size does not fit all. I feel government needs to provide housing that is accessible to the needy, offered to the needy, and it’s up to them to accept shelter without a bunch of red tape surrounding the offer. Like here is a shelter, use it if you want, come and go as you please. Sounds like crazy talk, but I’m a man, and I think like one.

    All I know is I would NOT want to be homeless and feel for those who are.

  • Leef O'Golin

    I follow a dude on Instagram called Joshua Coombes. Coombes is a British barber that gives free hair cuts and shaves to people living on the street. Each post is accompanied by the person’s story Coombes gets while giving them their trim. I always find each story interesting in that there are few common themes, other than their current situation. You’re right, a lot of them choose that lifestyle for whatever reason, and sometimes they just want to remove themselves from a segment of society for a while. Whatever Joe chooses to do, I hope he stays healthy and happy.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    The sad this is a there is a segment of society that doesnt have compassion for those that are homeless and struggling with mental health, addiction, or other issues that think well something to eat at a sheleter or a nights stay in one and they will be good to go.

    That’s a very very temporary solution and it doesnt fix the issues long term. Sometimes even when help is offer thru agencies or goverment programs, some that are affected see all the hoops and regulations and requirements to be so burdensome that they feel it is just too far out of reach, and others just dont want to take it out of pride or that they have to go on a list and wait…. and wait…and wait. Hoe Murphy is homeless and that’s a problem, but the other issues he may be afflicted with will need to start getting looked at as well, The sad thing is there is a lot of joe murphy’s on the street and it still grows more and more day by day.

  • Burnward

    As someone who has wished in the past for the ability to erase myself from the memories of all around me and disappear as well, I feel him.

    When you can’t get over the self hate the last thing you want is to bring your burden to anyone. It’s easier to just take what you think you deserve from life then ask for help that you know you’ll mess up anyway.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      It’s like you’re talking about me and I don’t feel as alone. I was 8 hours from homelessness once and only a miracle saved me.

      The problem with; “help” is that everyone’s help is unique and not easy to identify, and even harder to implement.

      And just like with conventional illness, sometimes there is no help. Sometimes people lose.

  • Edmonton_13

    Brownlee,

    First off, what you are doing with this subject is amazing. This is my first and only post I will make on this site. I come to the site daily and love the banter back and forth and will always continue to be on here.

    When it comes to Joe Murphy I did not know him and was to young to watch him with the Oilers. I love the Oilers like we all do. The reason this article stood out to me is because how it hit me. I was never close to the athletic level that Mr. Murphy was at but I was lucky to play at a high level in my sport. I don’t know anything about Mr. Murphy so I only speak for myself who is and will always go through this but please think of this. everything you guys say is so amazing and appreciated

    – A lot of time we isolate ourselves and I understand how bringing awareness to everyone is the best way to deal with things but also remember sometimes it hurts the people actually fighting it. Please don’t think I’m saying it’s bad to bring awareness because I 100% agree with that. All I’m saying is that from personal experience that’s what I have experienced.

    I can only speak for me but Brownlee I think what you are doing with the homeless is incredible. I just don’t want this to be media driven where that takes the focus and from personal experience it won’t help anyone. Blogs like this help a lot for bringing awareness to the right things. I understand and actually appreciate what TSN is doing with a documentary but again I can only talk for myself that won’t help. Knowing people are there for me, as lame as that sounds, is what helps.

    Brownlee, I’ve listened and read you for years and the one thing I know is you care not only about the team but about the individuals on the team. I’m sorry but I’m not going to give up my name but if you do want to know more about an athlete (to a lesser level) Mental Health, Robin please let me know. Also, anyone else who needs any information for yourself or anyone else about this issue just post a message on here and I’m sure they will be able to track me down.

    Thanks for reading this long post.

    • I appreciate you taking the time to comment here. I can assure you, this is much more than chasing a story or jumping on the topic of the day for me. On one hand, as a writer here I want to get the word out. On the other hand, as somebody who has been working with the Mustard Seed since last January, I want to make a difference for Joe and everybody in the same situation. To that end, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that I won’t write about here. It is all focused on, as you say, letting Joe and others know there are people there for them and ready to help when they are ready to accept that help. They aren’t just a headline or a quick-hit clip. You can contact me through the website any time.

      • Edmonton_13

        Brownlee,

        I first off have to say thank you very much for responding. Also, I need to make it very clear that the help and support from everyone here and what Brownlee is saying is such a motivation. I re-read my last message and realized it came across as a negative and I’m sorry for that. I was just trying to send the message that its sometimes harder having more people wanting to help. You (me) feel like you don’t want to let them down and eventually just give up. Robin, I’ll send you a message on the website though.

        Again, I can’t stress enough if you have anything to share on this topic please do. Any help
        Is so greatly appreciated and let’s try and find a way to help all of us (me). Thanks again Brownlee.

  • Scott P

    Robin, like you and others have said, Joe won’t take help if he doesn’t want it. I bet he would if the help offered was right. If money was raised to buy Joe a piece of land and build home a cabin with a wood stove, I bet he’d take that. Something more comfortable that would keep him safe in the winter. Joe isn’t likely to integrate back into society how most of us live, so adapt the help to suit how he seems to want to live.

  • XL Lebowski

    Robin, thank you for bringing this story to the forefront. I watched the segment with tears in my eyes. Joe Murphy seems like a genuinely kind person, just like many others out on the street. And I feel for him. I’m glad NHLPA players like Trevor Kidd are trying to help. It inspires me to want to continue to help others.

  • smiliegirl15

    One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is that you can’t make the right choices for other people. It’s heartbreaking. All we can do is be there if and when they decide they’re ready.

  • mikel

    our emotional response is to embrace him unconditionally, seek out avenues of blame that take away from his culpability, and expect everyone else including the nhl to do everything like they are responsible for it…

    joe’s situation is based on joe’s choices and joe’s lack of wisdom, and joe’s inability to take the responsibility for it (words don’t count unless they are followed by action)

    the nhl has no responsibility to take him and make it right again…he won the lawsuit and blew the money (he said through the stock market but the truth is never fully the truth from one point of view)…

    whether he suffers from concussions, drug addiction, or mental illness – inevitably, it befalls him to do the work to overcome and become the real man that he can be…

    until he wakes up one morning with snow on him and finally says ‘enough is enough, I cannot live like this and will do whatever it takes to change’ – and truly mean it – this is the life he is left with