A Place to Call a Permanent Home

By Giving List Staff   |   September 28, 2021
Step Up client Jesse with his wife and two young children near his apartment in West Hollywood hopes everyone will support Step Up’s life-changing work.

Susan Dempsey’s son Mark was in college when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The illness changed his life, causing him to drop out of school and drift away from his friends. Susan desperately looked for help, but it was the 1980s, and services for anyone with a mental illness were hard to find. So, Susan stepped into action and created a place for Mark and others with mental illness who were stigmatized and often left living on the streets. 

Step Up’s first location was a drop-in center that opened in 1984 in Santa Monica that provided individuals with mental health conditions a safe place to gather and created a sense of belonging, connection, and community.

Diamond, a young adult client, checking in for a workforce development session at Step Up on Second Street.

“As a society, we’re really not very good at creating access to mental health care,” says Tod Lipka, the nonprofit’s president and CEO. “It’s often offered within the four walls of the mental health institution. You have to penetrate that institution to get help, and we’re talking about people who are homeless and the least able to manage getting that help.” 

Step Up provides permanent supportive housing to chronically homeless individuals who are suffering from serious mental illness or in need of mental health support. The organization challenges the deep-seated mindset on mental illness that focuses on housing last, only after mental health issues are addressed. That traditional approach isn’t effective, Lipka says. Step Up measures its success on its 97% retention rate, which is a measure of how many residents remain in the free studio supportive housing apartments for longer than a year.  

“We say housing shouldn’t be the culmination of recovery, it should be the foundation for recovery because recovery on the street is virtually impossible,” Lipka says.

The charity has scattered studio apartments and apartment buildings converted from blighted motels throughout Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Pasadena, and in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Monterey, and Sacramento counties as well as in the states of Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. Since its inception, Step Up has provided permanent supportive housing and case management services to thousands of formerly chronically homeless individuals. Today, Step Up is providing life-changing housing, mental health, and case management services to over 1,800 individuals. And it’s already working to increase those numbers with plans to build 20 new sites that will nearly double its current housing capacity. The housing developments are run by trained mental health experts who work with the residents to provide mental health and addiction recovery, life skills, vocational training, and resume building skills.

“We want to empower individuals to cultivate lives of hope and dignity,” Lipka says.

The organization helps everyone from veterans with PTSD to youth with substance abuse issues and offers individuals a home for life. 

“The outcome we’re looking for is not that they ‘graduate and move on.’ It’s that they stay housed,” Lipka says.


Step Up

Donate now!

(310) 696-4510 ext.2200
Chief Development Officer: Lynne S. Elwan


Step Up delivers compassionate support to people experiencing serious mental health issues, and persons who are experiencing chronic homelessness, to help them recover, stabilize, and integrate into the community. Through dynamic partnerships, we provide positive social and learning environments, vocational training, permanent supportive housing opportunities, and recovery services to empower individuals to cultivate lives of hope and dignity. We exercise innovative leadership and advocacy to increase public understanding, support, and acceptance of all people living with serious mental health issues.

Begin to Build a Relationship

We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s Director of Development and/or Executive Director.

When I left rehab, I was told that if I had a place to live, I could get my son back. Honestly, I didn’t have much hope. I had experienced homelessness for so long that I didn’t think anyone would be able to help me. But after a few phone calls, I met Brittany from Step Up. Within a few weeks I was signing a lease and nine days later my son came back home to live with me. That wouldn’t have been possible without Step Up. When they handed me the keys, that turned everything around. They helped me believe that I could change my life, and when you start to believe, anything is possible.
Step Up Member

Home for the Holidays — Help Save a Life This Holiday Season

You can help save the lives of thousands of our unhoused neighbors this holiday season. 

Step Up’s 2022 Home for the Holidays campaign will help more veterans, transition-age youth, and people in need find permanent supportive housing and compassionate wraparound services. Their goal is to raise $5 million.

Your gift will help fund new housing developments throughout Southern California, where individuals experiencing chronic homelessness can access onsite mental health services, positive social and learning environments, vocational training, and other life-changing support.  

Envision a world alongside Step Up where everyone has access to mental healthcare, a safe home, and the opportunity to live a fulfilling life. You can help ensure that people are surrounded with compassion, essential supportive services, and most importantly a place to call home.

Key Supporters

Ahmanson Foundation
Annenberg Foundation
Senator Ben Allen
Assemblyman Richard Bloom
and Robbie Black
California Community Foundation
The Carl & Roberta Deutsch Foundation
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Don and Lorraine Freeberg Foundation
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
Dr. David Foster
George Hoag Family Foundation
Aileen Getty
Corky Hale
The Home Depot Foundation
Kaiser Permanente Foundation
Kobe and Vanessa Bryant
Family Foundation
Senator Sheila Kuehl
Congressman Ted W. Lieu
Janet Montgomery
Ralph M. Parsons Foundation
Martin and Janet Sheen
Weingart Foundation
Zev Yaroslavsky