DOWNTOWN — Michael Pierce points to a notebook shaped object being cradled by an antique Roman figure in a statue at the Getty Villa on Pacific Coast Highway.

“Hey look, the first laptop,” he says.

Pierce is an ex-commercial pilot and actor; he’s a natural jokester who never stops cracking one-liners.

Pierce is also homeless; he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress after a plane crash, and his house went into foreclosure after a too slow show business career.

Pierce is now with Samoshel, an emergency housing program that helps homeless adults in Santa Monica find jobs and permanent housing.

But Pierce wants the program to supply its clients with more than that.

This trip to the Getty Villa was planned, financed and attended exclusively by Samoshel’s homeless clients, not its staff.

And this trip is just the beginning, Pierce said.

He wants more artistic and cultural outings, like the trip to the Getty Villa, to help boost the morale of Samoshel’s clients.

“What we really need is a way for these guys to relax a little,” Pierce said.

Samoshel is probably the program that can do that.

Established in 1994, Samoshel became a part of the Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC) in 2005, and is housed in a squat tent on Colorado Avenue.

At first, the tent was supposed to be temporary, said Alinda Connolly, assistant director at Samoshel.

However, the tent, and the program, are still around, and trying to give homeless people who are willing something more than a hot meal and a place to sleep at night.

“We’re so much more, so much more than that,” she said.

For six months at a time, Samoshel offers clients case managers to help assess their mental health, and receives donations of food and more from schools, religious organizations, corporations and individuals, Connolly said.

Being part of OPCC, a host of other programs are available to residents, she added.

But Samoshel has a couple of features that make it stick out from other homeless programs, Connolly said.

Clients are given certain freedoms, like the ability to stay in the shelter during the day and have service animals on the property, she said.

Clients also take part in a money management program, where they are directed to save at least 60 percent of the money they make from employment, unemployment or welfare.

“Some balk, but at six months, they have thousands. Now they’re ready to go into an apartment,” Connolly said.

Residents of Samoshel are also allowed to elect a resident council, including a president and treasurer. The council holds weekly meetings, and is supposed to act as a level of authority that residents might be more comfortable trusting, Connolly said.

It’s part of Samoshel’s practice of putting more responsibility in the hands of clients, she said.

“Staff stays out of it,” she added.

One of the things that the resident council tries to do is set up activities for the residents, something that had been lacking effort lately, said James Hagie.

Hagie, who acts as the treasurer for the resident council, said that even though he grew up in Santa Monica, he never knew that Samoshel was there.

But in September 2010, a death in the family and a loss of income put Hagie on the streets.

In poor mental and physical health, he drank to cope with his situation until he finally checked into UCLA Medical Center for treatment, which led him to Samoshel, Hagie said.

The unique environment at Samoshel has been good for Hagie, he said.

He has been sober for 14 months now.

“A lot of it has to do with that place,” he said of Samoshel.

And Hagie is happy to see that, unlike some of his predecessors, Pierce is excited about getting entertaining and engaging activities to the residents. Past entertainment coordinators had often made the activity a night in the shelter watching TV instead of going out.

“The other guy just had them watching movies the entire time,” he said.

When the position of entertainment coordinator came up on the resident council, Pierce jumped at it, and at the chance to get the clients out of the shelter.

Certainly the trip to the Getty seemed to be a success.

The day ended with more jokes from Pierce about topics, from the god Mercury to medication. It also ended with a general agreement that this was a day well spent.

Clients eat well, and the program is effective for moving people to permanent housing, but morale is just as important, Pierce said.

Pierce is encountering some problems trying to get businesses to donate time and tickets to the residents; however, the Broad Stage, a product of Santa Monica College and bond money approved by residents, has promised Samoshel 10 tickets a month, he said.

Trips to Magicopolis, as well as movie theaters on the Third Street Promenade and bowling on Pico Boulevard, are in the works.

The chance to take their minds off their worries for a day’s activity, and to do it in a social environment, should be a welcome one for Samoshel clients, Pierce said.

“I was just hoping to lift people’s spirits,” he said.

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