Like many working parents, Anuj Gupta’s mind often wanders to his 2-year-old son during the day. Pictures of Gupta’s young family frame the large curved screen monitor inside his otherwise sparse new office inside City Hall. The photos are a reminder just a few months into his role as Deputy City Manager that he and his family are already deeply rooted in the community.

“This is the place I’ve picked for my family to put down roots for the foreseeable future and it’s the community that my son – and any children we have in the future – will grow up in,” the Sunset Park resident said. “These are his streets and libraries and schools and buses.”

More than three years after moving here, Gupta is now in a position to affect real change. As he settles into his new job directing policy for the City by the Sea, he’s focused on the same issue that has been on the minds of many residents – the growing homeless population in Santa Monica and what do to about it. The City reported a 26 percent increase in the number of homeless this year alone. More people are living on the streets now than in any other time in recent history.

The impact of that growing population is felt throughout the city – on the beach, in parks, downtown and at the Farmer’s Market. So much so, City Manager Rick Cole is looking to hire a fulltime staff member to address the problem. His office has also formed an interdepartmental team to hammer out an action plan. To Gupta, it’s an issue that requires every employee’s attention.

“It weighs on my mind – thinking about my son,” Gupta said. “He loves the two parks that we live near and the two libraries he goes to several times a week and it’s the reality in 2017 Santa Monica that in our parks and in our libraries you encounter a significant homeless population.”

It’s a challenge that permeates nearly every department in city government – police, fire, housing, events, arts and culture. In his new role, Gupta aims to bring all those separate efforts together. It’s a personal mission well matched to his resume – both his experience in Los Angeles as Mayor Garcetti’s Director of Operations and during his time in the West Wing in Washington, D.C. To Gupta, the new job marries his skills with his passion.

“Frankly, when I first saw this job posting it was a big part of my excitement when applying for it and going through the interview process,” Gupta said. “It was something that wasn’t just a talking point for me but a genuine connection to the job.”

As a staffer in the White House, Gupta helped prepare President Obama’s nightly briefing, even traveling with Obama on occasions on Air Force One. He says his office worked like a traffic cop – controlling the information that reached Oval Office so Obama could make informed decisions without becoming overwhelmed.

“In order to succeed in that job it was all about collaboration to develop policy,” Gupta said. “It involved working with lots of different offices – all of whom were working on very different, important things.”

Gupta hopes the same approach will help Santa Monica find new solutions to get homeless people off the streets. His boss, Rick Cole, has emphasized the need for data throughout the process – the need to carefully track the City’s many efforts and constantly evaluate their effectiveness.

Even still, the homeless problem is more than just numbers and graphs. It’s the unrelenting need for city and private services – food, shelter, showers and bathrooms. It’s the tired and tanned faces outside the library. It’s the large group of transients and their pets stretched out in Palisades Park. It’s finding the complicated answer to a simple question from a child on the way to the beach: ‘why?’

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press