While a Salvation Army report highlights people's concerns about drugs and gangs in Northland, agencies that work in those areas say a lot of work is going on behind the scenes to reverse the trend.

All is not doom and gloom and collaboration between government and non-government organisations to address social issues will ensure everyone felt part of society rather than being neglected, they say.

According to the Salvation Army's second annual State of Our Communities report released this week, methamphetamine and gangs were major concerns for people in Whangārei and Kaitaia.

Their views were raised during face-to-face interviews with 101 people in public places in Whangārei and 50 in Kaitaia. Other issues of concern they were keen to raise with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern if they met her were a lack of affordable housing, poor infrastructure, and a lack of jobs.


One Double Five Community House's Carol Peters said the concerns were all related to poverty which in turn boiled down to a lack of well-paid jobs.

Northland has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Statistics NZ figures show 5500 people, or 6.2 per cent of Northland's working age population, were unemployed in the September quarter. This was much higher than the national rate of 3.9 per cent.
Of the unemployed, 3000 were Māori and 2500 non-Māori, 3600 were male and 1900 female.

"Systemically, we have a lot to do to ensure people have well-paid jobs and Government to some degree is starting to address that by increasing the minimum wage which is a start," Peters said.

She said day centre Open Arms, in central Whangārei, worked with agencies like the Ministry of Social Development to connect people in need with different services for housing and health care.

On housing, she said a shortage of affordable properties was both a problem and an opportunity to explore good urban design.

"Whangārei is not yet a large, sprawling city, so there are areas that could be redeveloped for medium- to high-density housing close to the city where people could interact."

Far North mayor John Carter said the Salvation Army report confirmed that Kaitaia, like many other provincial towns, struggled with significant social problems such as gangs, drugs, mental health issues and a lack of affordable housing.

He's glad to see greater investment in Northland, particularly in housing and police numbers. Carter said the Far North District Council and the community were working to improve facilities in the district.


"Construction of Te Hiku Sports Hub is well advanced and plans to convert the old (Pak'nSave) supermarket into a youth centre are also progressing. There is still much to do, but I think the people of Kaitaia are up for the challenge."

The Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner for Northland, Eru Lyndon, said several multi agencies were achieving good outcomes in areas such as housing, employment and other social issues.

"There is pressure on Northland housing, largely due to population growth and a growing economy. Northland is one of the fastest growing regions and employment is up, which means people are choosing to come home or call Northland their home.

"There have been significant drops in both the rates of young people who are not working, training or studying and Māori unemployment over the past year, which is down to a near-record low of 11.2 per cent in the year to September 2018.

"The unemployment numbers for Northland are still higher than we'd like them to be but they're definitely moving in the right direction," Lyndon said.

Those concerns were put to the Prime Minister's Office, which referred questions to the Minister of Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni, who replied through Lyndon.