A Kāpiti town is struggling with four suspected suicides and a rise in the use of methamphetamine, according to locals.
The four deaths since mid-September have been referred to the coroner and their causes are not yet established.
Ōtaki woman Hiraina Raika is a mother-of-10 and church minister. She described one of the people who died a few weeks ago as like a "nephew".
"We didn't understand the deepness of the depression that he was going through, because he was always one to hold the peace, one to stand up for justice if he knew things weren't happening right."
Mrs Raika was worried about what young people were saying at the man's tangi.
"Those alarm bells just kept going off for me and I'm thinking, 'What is happening with our kids? What is happening with our families?' You know, are these families actually getting the support?"
Her husband and fellow minister Stacey Raika said bad signs were on the horizon: High rents, poor public transport, and strained medical services.
"We could definitely suspect that sooner or later something like this is going to happen.
"As the world squeezes and things get a bit harder financially, you know, relationships and stuff, you can start to see a building tension in the town. It was a matter of when, not if."
One symptom of the multiplying distress was the rising use of methamphetamine, Mr Raika said.
"This wolf needs to be snuffed out because it's nasty.
"If nothing [changes], we believe in the next year or so it'll become that common that it's just like … normal."
Rawiri Barriball did two decades in the NZ Navy and returned to Ōtaki recently to his family split by methamphetamine.
He is organising an anti-methamphetamine hikoi in the town on 1 December. He said he was feeling a new urgency to break the shame and silence.
"We have to act because the drug, it won't stay still."
Ōtaki has champion waka ama and Māori rugby league teams, and substantial uptake of te reo, things Ōtaki Medical Centre chief executive Kiwa Raureti said meant there was hope for the town.
He has renewed his efforts to bring medical services into under an umbrella group, Te Puna Oranga o Ōtaki.
"We would like to say that there is going to be a significant difference in one month, but a difference that impacts on the community in, perhaps, three months," he said.
Kāpiti Mayor K Gurunathan lives in Ōtaki and is leading a push to get health and police services switched so the town can rely on Paraparaumu and Wellington, rather than on Palmerston North.
He said the sudden deaths are linked to the way services are stretched.
"If you look at the mental health issues, you know, sometimes the police are involved, you look at the drug use, the meth, and that also underpins some of the mental health problems, it just doesn't make sense," Mr Gurunathan said.
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