Drugs, particularly methamphetamine, and gangs are the major concerns locals in Whangārei and Kaitaia want the government to address so that their towns enjoy healthy growth, a report has highlighted.
One local said it was easier to get meth in Kaitaia than weed and due to a lack of jobs, disengaged youths were being prone to influences from gangs.
The Salvation Army's second annual State of Our Communities report tells the story of life in six New Zealand communities, including Whangārei and Kaitaia, through the words of the people who live there.
Their views were raised during face-to-face interviews with 101 people in public places in Whangārei and 50 in Kaitaia.
A lack of housing and issues facing Maori stemming from colonisation also came to the fore during the interactions.
In Whangārei, it is a story where people have clear aspirations to live in a stable, healthy developing town but where they are concerned that social problems will prevent the town from reaching its potential.
People interviewed spoke about an epidemic of damaging drug use, inadequate housing and disengaged youth who got caught up in gangs and anti-social behaviour, report author Ronji Tanielu said.
Those were the issues people wanted to talk to the prime minister about if they have that opportunity, Tanielu said.
People of Whangārei loved their town, were proud of its natural beauty and felt at home but feared the district would suffer further social and economic decline without government assistance.
A Maori woman in her 30s who had been a drug addict said she would tell the prime minister to get rid of meth.
"If you know who's selling P in Whangarei, who not stop it? They know and should stop it.
"If gangs weren't here, there would be more peace in Whangārei," she said.
Another resident said in five years, she hoped to see gangs integrate into society without patches, drugs and violence.
Salvation Army said an underlying feeling that emerged throughout the interviews was possible fractures or divisions in Whangārei between Maori, who spoke about colonisation and its damaging effects, and Europeans.
In Kaitaia, nearly half those interviewed said they were troubled by drug use that was destructive and breaking families, and gangs.
"Kaitaia locals were clear in their hope that Kaitaia would become a meth, drug and crime free society in future."
Poverty and inequality were also top concerns, especially high rents and the number of homeless people.
Suicide was another concern, with some saying mental health services were isolated and could be difficult to reach.
Forty-one Northlanders died by their own hand between July 2017 and June 2018 - five more than the 36 from the 12 months before. Seven were under 25 years of age. Nationally there were 668 deaths, 62 more than the previous 12 months.
"They clearly wanted better outcomes for them, principally focusing on suicide and mental health issues among local young people, and the need to engage them in positive pathways."
Interestingly, some locals, both Maori and non-Maori, questioned the effectiveness of social and non-government organisations in Kaitaia.
"These locals also talked about the proliferation of Maori NGOs and wondered aloud whether or not the funds of these groups was actually trickling down to the locals, given the visible social challenges in the area," the report said.
In the next five years, locals said they want to see better infrastructure, new businesses and more support for existing ones.
Salvation Army spoke to 93 females and 57 males in Whangarei and Kaitaia, 25 Maori and a similar number of Europeans, plus smaller numbers of other ethnic groups.