Community Conversation Webinar: Addressing the Needs of the Unhoused in Thousand Oaks

  • Date: 11/29/2022 6:00 PM - 7:59 PM  

 Community Conversation_UPDATED

 Please join us for a Community Conversation at 6pm on Tuesday November 29. A panel of subject matter experts will gather to discuss the various needs of the unhoused population and how interagency cooperation maximizes the ability to assist as many as possible. Register today at

Meet the Panel

Tod Lipka, President & CEO, Step Up on Second 

Tod Lipka holds an M.P.A. degree and an M.S. from USC. With forty years in managing nonprofits, Mr. Lipka is a seasoned executive. He has been President and CEO of Step Up since 2001. In that time, Step Up has increased exponentially in its breadth of service operation and expanded from one supportive housing project to over twenty-five projects. Step Up started services originally in Los Angeles and now provides services throughout California including Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, and Monterey Counties as well as the states of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.  Step Up currently serves nearly 5,000 individuals annually. 

Step Up is nationally recognized as a leading mental health and housing provider to those who are chronically homeless. Step Up was an early adopter of the housing first model and Step Up’s work on motel conversion models was part of the genesis of California’s innovative Homekey Model.  Called one of the best service providers in the country, Step Up boasts a 98% retention rate of those who are housed. 

Led by the mantra of faster, cheaper and more, Step Up is known to focus on the most cost-effective methods to scale permanent housing through motel conversions and modular housing. Lipka is a recognized thought leader on the issues of mental health and homelessness and is focused on rapid dissemination, advocacy and promotion of the most successful housing development practices, methods and innovations that will end homelessness by scaling housing development.  He sees the need to educate, advocate and unite the political, philanthropic, developers, investors, private actors, and organizations in adopting the best and next practices for quickly and cost-effectively creating more housing at scale. 

Lipka is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative where Step Up’s work was recognized and endorsed personally by President Clinton in 2010 and 2013, as well as recognized by the late Kobe Bryant and the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. 

Lipka oversees all aspects of the Step Up entity which includes permanent supportive housing, mental health services and property management to nearly 5,000 people in five states, most of which serve individuals with serious mental health conditions and experiencing chronic homelessness. Step Up is a premier Housing First organization. As an innovator and thought leader, Lipka educates and advocates directly on behalf of the individuals Step Up serves through sharing powerful personal stories from the field, increasing awareness and sharing best practices in the areas of mental health, chronic homelessness, and permanent supportive housing. 

Aaron Criswell, Chief Housing Development Officer,
 Step Up on Second 

Aaron Criswell has been with Step Up since 2002 and has over 30 years of experience in the community mental health field. Mr. Criswell received his M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Kentucky. He comes to Step Up after having been an integral team member of Portals Mental Health Rehabilitation Services, Boulder County Behavioral Health Program, and Mental Health Corporation of Denver, among others. 

After many years overseeing services programs at Step Up, he is now responsible for the Housing Development Department which includes Development, Asset Management and Property Management of Step Up’s Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) projects and partnerships. Mr. Criswell is committed to solving homelessness through housing and services and has integrated the Housing First approach in all PSH projects operated by Step Up. 

David Tavlin, Chief Program OfficerStep Up on Second 

David Tavlin joined Step Up in 2013 as the Quality Assurance Manager. As a Licensed MFT, David brought 8 years of community based mental health experience providing clinical support in school based, field based, outpatient, and wraparound services throughout Los Angeles County. 

While at Step Up, David has held multiple positions. After formalizing the QA process he worked to develop the Quality Management Department which included QA/QI, Student Intern Program, Medi-cal billing, clinical training, and clinical supervision. He then became Vice President of Clinical Programs, overseeing the established clinical programs within the agency as well as the formulation of our clinical and housing programs nationally. In January 2020 he was promoted to Chief Program Officer, assuming oversight of all clinical and housing programs. 

David is focused on Step Up’s growth at the city, county, and national level while working to maintain Step Up’s Mission and Core Values across all new and existing programs. 

Dichele Harris , Area Director, Lutheran Social Services  

Dichele Harris is the Area Director for Lutheran Social Services of Southern California, Ventura County. She has worked in the non-profit space for more than six years with organizations focused on poverty-related issues. As the Area Director oversees Lutheran Social Services local programs serving the Conejo Valley and Ventura County. Dichele and her team work directly with those experiencing homelessness, as well as those who have homes but are experiencing extreme financial burdens. In her role, Dichele manages programs that provide food, showers, and housing assistance to those who are unhoused, and financial assistance to those experiencing poverty.  

Jennifer Harkey, Continuum of Care Program Director, Ventura County

Jennifer Harkey has worked for the County of Ventura for the past 15 years in various roles, including a Program Analyst for the Human Services Agency and Program Administrator for the County Executive Office. She now serves as the Program Director for the Ventura County Continuum of Care, managing federal and state grant funding and leads several committees dedicated to addressing homelessness in Ventura County. Jennifer also volunteers to support local nonprofit organizations and has a passion for helping those in need. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor’s in Sociology from California State University Northridge. 

Denise Cortes, Founder and Director, Harbor House

Denise Cortes founded Harbor House to help those in the Conejo Valley living in deep poverty and homelessness. Denise has lived in the community for over thirty years and has raised her family here. Denise previously worked as Area Director for Lutheran Social Services where she managed all operations in Ventura County. This work led her to creating Harbor House with local funds helping local people and needs. Denise volunteered for seven years as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for foster youth. This work as a CASA helped Denise to see the link between growing up in foster care and homelessness. This insight led to the creation of Pi House. Pi House is a transitional home for aged out foster youth. Denise has experience as a speaker, teacher and a trainer.


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