When word that Doug Nickerson was dying spread along Surrey’s “Strip,” friends rallied to bring him some comfort in his final days.
In April, Nickerson, 59, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he likely had six months to live. He is known on the “Strip,” a section of 135A Street, for carrying a naloxone kit, which he’s used to reverse more than 130 overdoses since the fentanyl crisis hit B.C. about two years ago.
For all the lives Nickerson’s saved, some people called him a hero.
So when news of his illness broke, acquaintances contacted a third party to help set up a GoFundMe campaign, which raised $13,102 to fulfil Nickerson’s last wish: To visit his parents in Nova Scotia before he dies.
But now, Nickerson said, he is struggling to tap those funds, while those behind the campaign say they’re doing everything they can to make sure the money is used to get him home safely as soon as possible.
And what began as an earnest effort to reunite a dying man with his family in his final days has turned into a disagreement over spending that has left both sides stressed and full of heartache.
Ron Moloughney, one of the acquaintances behind the GoFundMe page, said every penny from the campaign — save for the eight per cent GoFundMe charges for its platform and payment processing fees — is earmarked to be spent on Nickerson. It will go toward his travel expenses and, if anything is left over, will be contributed to his funeral service or transferred to his daughter at his request, Moloughney said.
“I promised him that,” he said.
But efforts to send Nickerson home have been hampered by his lack of government-issued ID: He needs a single piece of photo ID or two pieces of non-photo ID to fly domestically. Friends have helped Nickerson obtain his birth certificate but he’s struggled to acquire a second piece, Nickerson said.
Moloughney said he and the other organizers have worked hard to get Nickerson the ID, and have made appeals to airlines for an exception to be made, given the time crunch, but to no avail.
Nickerson said Moloughney and the other organizers rarely make themselves available to help him get ID; Moloughney said Nickerson isn’t co-operating with them.
Both men said they are disappointed by how the GoFundMe campaign has turned out.
“It hurts me,” Moloughney said. “I’m sorry things are turning out this way.”
“My apologies to the people that have donated that have to read or hear this,” said Nickerson.
Moloughney said he and the other organizers are concerned that by handing Nickerson more than $10,000 in cash, they would put him at risk of drug relapse or overdose, or make him a target for mugging on The Strip.
For that reason, Nickerson was not set up as a direct beneficiary of the campaign, and the organizers instead chose to deliver the funds to him as needed, they said.
The organizers have spent some of the money on cartons of cigarettes at Nickerson’s request. But Nickerson said he didn’t want the air mattress, bedding, clothing, shoes, groceries and pre-loaded gift cards they bought for him.
“I could pick apart their choice but the point is, they aren’t my choices,” he said.
One of Nickerson’s closest friends has filed a complaint on his behalf with GoFundMe alleging the funds have been misused.
Nickerson said with two months left to live, he’s tired of waiting for the money and wants to use it to hire a notary public and for whatever other means necessary to obtain proper ID. He wants “access to the money to move on with my life,” he said.
“I think I’ve given (the organizers) the benefit of the doubt long enough.”
GoFundMe did not return a request for comment. In an email to the National Post earlier this month for a different story, a spokesperson said that when a campaign is created on behalf of another person, GoFundMe only transfers money directly to the beneficiary. If a campaign creator violates the site’s policies and conditions, the money is refunded directly to each donor.
On its website, GoFundMe says that organizers can withdraw money on behalf of a beneficiary. GoFundMe suggests campaign organizers who choose to do so explain to funders how they are related to the beneficiary, how they’ll be delivering the funds and that they’ll be withdrawing the funds in their own name.
Both Nickerson and Moloughney said they are wondering whether they’d be better off refunding the remaining money.
With a file from National Post