Mom admitted to me not that long ago that “chop suey night” growing up in our house meant we had no food in the cupboards.
We ate a lot of chop suey.
Please don’t feel sorry for us.
My mom is one of the most fiercely independent women you could have the good fortune to meet, and we did just fine on our own (with a lot of help from our extended family).
Besides, eating ground beef mixed with canned bean sprouts and water chestnuts over white rice is nothing compared to what some people experience in this world.
And, frankly, I still crave it some days.
Why tell you this?
Because I want to share my perspective and my background, because some of you out there consider me a pariah for what I wrote last week about Kelowna’s homeless population.
Some of you called me “privileged” and “tone deaf.”
Tone deaf, perhaps. But privileged only if you consider that for the first three months of my life, my mom fought to get me back from foster care.
Like I said, fiercely independent.
Growing up in Saskatoon in the 1970s and ’80s to a single teen mom working shift-work and living in a basement apartment is not what I would call privileged.
If you haven’t read last week’s column, it’s called “Goodbye downtown Kelowna,” and it was about The Daily Courier selling our old office at 550 Doyle Ave. and moving to Leckie Road.
The last year in the old office was, at times, harrowing.
We had numerous encounters with Kelowna’s homeless population that left our nerves frayed.
I’ll spare you the details, but those battling addictions and mental health challenges would often leave us frustrated and angry.
If you want the details, you can read the old column.
However, before you do that, know that I used language in that column many readers found offensive.
Letters denouncing my word choice came quickly and furiously. Some of you called for my firing, while others just simply wanted me to do better as a person with some influence in this community.
It still sounds odd to say I have influence, but I’m reminded of the position of a daily newspaper and the person in charge of the content of that newspaper.
I want you to know I heard you loudly and clearly. I want you to know that I will commit to using language that treats everyone with respect and dignity.
I want you to know that I’m sorry for my word choices, and I unreservedly apologize to Kelowna’s most vulnerable people.
I can be better. I will be better.
Nobody is forcing me to write this. We’re not being pressured by advertisers or governments.
This is coming from me after some long, emotional conversations with readers, colleagues and family.
At the very least, using strong language did something that was unintentional: it undermined the experience and the issue.
Instead of talking about how to end homelessness, we’re talking about my choice of nouns. Instead of talking about Kelowna’s small businesses and the challenges of operating downtown, we’re talking about my perspective.
My perspective is not what’s important. So where did that notorious column come from? A place of anger, frustration and fear.
It wasn’t always like that, but it certainly trailed into difficult territory.
Staff here tried to help those in need. We laugh about conversations with “Handsome Joe.” We offered coffee and food to those in need, and only asked anyone camping in front of our business doors to leave when the office opened at 8 a.m.
But, after about a year of open drug use and sales outside our windows, gender-based violence in our alcove and cleaning up human waste, we were glad to leave.
I know that this explanation won’t sit well with many of you, but I owe it to readers to set a better example. If you believe me, or not, is your choice. I will attempt to win it back regardless through my actions.
We plan to address the issue on these pages in clear, concise and thoughtful ways.
I also worry that those who wrote, called and texted me thanking me for using plain language to describe the issue may be feeling betrayed.
To those readers, please understand that the story would’ve been the same without the hurtful words, and that choosing them does not advance the issue — and, boy, what an issue.
People have been calling us a lot this week telling us that 550 Doyle Ave. looks like an emergency, outdoor shelter.
Clearly, Kelowna, the province of B.C. and the entire nation has a serious homelessness issue, and with that we have drug abuse, mental health and reconciliation issues, too.
That’s the story, not my clumsy word choices.
Please, I hope you will join The Daily Courier and Penticton Herald in tackling these issues head-on with the grace they deserve.
David Trifunov is The Daily Courier’s managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.