By Erika I. Ritchie, Orange County Register
Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG
Howard Kirk stood 4 feet back from the large canvas and easel standing on his Mission Viejo apartment balcony.
He eyed the face of the enormous wave he was painting and considered what more it needed. He walked forward, sat down in his chair and with a small brush added green and yellow details to its face. The surf spot “Jaws” is located along Maui’s North Shore and only the most skilled surfers can ride it.
“A lot of places you can recognize just from the face of the wave,” he said, dabbing in the last details.
Kirk, 74, exhibits his work at LagunaArt.com, a gallery next to Nordstrom on the second floor of The Shops at Mission Viejo. Recently, he participated in a Save Our Seas exhibit, coordinated by the gallery’s owner, Shane Townley. The multi-week exhibition raised money for environmental and human causes.
“This really connects with my heart, ” Kirk said enthusiastically. He looks forward to more events to help rebuild the art career that once had him exhibiting in the same gallery as Wyland on Kauai.
Early this year, his outlook was dire.
He was living in a temporary shelter at an Anaheim motel, waiting for a voucher through the Department of Veterans Affairs to qualify him for permanent housing. After living on Maui for a decade, Kirk returned to California to start a gallery in Laguna Beach, only to lose his livelihood when the pandemic hit.
His luck turned on Jan. 29, when he received word from the Orange County United Way’s WelcomeHomeOC that an apartment was available.
The program, part of United To End Homelessness, is a housing assistance program tailored to Orange County that connects property owners with homeless people who qualify for assistance through one of the county’s four housing authorities.
Since starting in 2019, the program has housed 534 people, of which 119 are veterans. According to the latest point-in-time count, more than 300 veterans live without shelter in Orange County.
WelcomeHomeOC wants to put an end to that and work toward the countywide goal of reaching functional zero – when the availability of services and resources matches or exceeds the demand for them – in terms of veterans’ homelessness.
A $2.9 million grant secured from the California state budget has helped get housing for 104 of the 119 veterans, said Kristine Peters, the program’s director.