by Matt Flowers, freelance journalist

There is a strong visual dichotomy that one can see on any given morning in Erie County, and more specifically, in the city of Erie. You can see professional men and women walking briskly to their offices, suited up in blazers and blouses, slacks and skirts. Many of them have laptop bags slung over their shoulders and travel mugs or a fresh white Starbucks cup in hand, brimming with soul-warming coffee or tea.

And then you can see other men and women, meandering to locations unknown, donning a bedraggled miscellany of belongings. Many of them have a backpack or various tattered plastic bags that hold the possessions they can't wear. Like their employed and housed peers, some of them have a cup in hand as well, but instead of being filled with warm coffee, it's rattling with a small pile of cold, loose change.

It's strange to see how some people navigate around our community's homeless population. If we encounter them on the street, our gaze drops to the sidewalk or a building in the distance while we silently hope to avoid an interaction. It's as though, if we focus hard enough on something else, we can will away the problem that's hidden in plain sight—one that deserves our attention.

Day or night, it's hard to fault housed people for this reaction. Many of us have experienced a stranger peering out from under the stairwell in a parking garage or from an alcove on the side of a building, asking for money or cigarettes. It's unsettling when it's late, and especially so if you're alone.

It's this type of interaction that most people associate with homelessness. But those on the street are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more in transitional housing and rapid rehousing programs, community shelters, and emergency shelters. Further, homelessness affects some of the most vulnerable people in our community, such as children, minorities, and veterans.

But no matter who our community's homeless are, where they are, and what led them there, it's clear there is work to be done. In this report, Erie New Now takes a closer look at the current state of homelessness, the community benefits of providing shelter to this vulnerable population, and the people who are working tirelessly to help those in need.

WATCH: Homelessness in Erie