From the Editor: Remembering Little Doug, the hero of the Surrey Strip who passed away last month

Nicole Kwit

After a long battle with pancreatic cancer, the man known as the guardian angel of the Surrey Strip has passed away.

“Little” Doug Nickerson reportedly saved close to 150 lives during his time on the streets by carrying naloxone kits with him everywhere he cycled. His bike route primarily stretched along the two most impoverished blocks of 135A Street, and if he heard of or saw anyone suffering from an overdose, he would drop everything to administer the opioid antagonist to them as soon as possible. He did this expecting nothing in return.

Two days before his passing, Nickerson was given the Heart of the City Award by Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. When he accepted the award, he told the CBC that his disease had been keeping him from going out onto the Strip as often as he would like. He lived near 135A Street in a home with his roommates, and although he was ill and often sorely missing his parents in Nova Scotia, he told reporters, “I have everything I need here.”

“[The Strip is] where my heart is because it’s where I feel useful,” Nickerson said in an interview with The Vancouver Sun last summer. “Every time I can reverse an overdose, that’s one less the medical profession has to break their neck to get to.”

While fighting cancer, and growing weaker with each passing day, Nickerson still found it in his heart to save anyone he saw overdosing on opioids. Because he lived on the streets until last year, he was immersed in the culture on the Strip and could help addicts from the inside, allowing them to receive medical attention without being made uncomfortable in the presence of authority figures like police or doctors.

Before he died, he dreamed of seeing his parents on Cape Sable Island for the first time in 30 years. And when was given six months to live, his community put together a GoFundMe campaign to cover his travel expenses.

The campaign raised over $13,000, but Nickerson could not access it without proper identification. Although he could find his birth certificate, he couldn’t attain a second piece of ID, so GoFundMe would not release the donations to him. The organisers were reluctant to give him the full amount in cash in fear of Nickerson relapsing or being mugged, so they bought him various presents to rectify the situation, but he wasn’t satisfied. Nickerson never got to see his parents.

Still, he remained an active member of the Surrey Strip’s community and did not let his sickness keep him bedridden until a few days before his passing.

“Nobody else cared about these street-entrenched people. You know, they were just an obstacle to walk over and he didn’t see it that way,” said Ron Moloughney, a close friend of Nickerson’s and President of the Surrey Area Network of Substance Users, in an interview with the CBC. “He seen them as human beings.”

Now that he’s gone, handling overdoses is once again solely in the hands of city officials. With luck, another good samaritan like Little Doug will come along to help the people of the Strip, but it’s unlikely anyone will do so with the same generosity and compassion that Nickerson had until his final day.

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