Our cultural exploration class had a lengthy encounter with homelessness on a warm October evening. We convened on Richmond’s Monroe Park, the hub of Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus and the former hub of activity for the city’s homeless population.

The homeless team gave us an in-depth look at the history and causes of homelessness, but what really stood out was what we learned about the lives of those who find themselves in this situation today. Living without an address makes it difficult to find work, to establish a bank account and to maintain health and hygiene. And many of those who currently have a home may only be a couple of missed paychecks away from an encounter with homelessness.

After hearing a comprehensive presentation and participating in a competition to write the most successful cardboard sign, our class turned its attention to two experts on homelessness, working with the Daily Planet. One of them had spent part of his life on the streets, before pulling himself up and turning around his life. Now he’s giving back by helping others.

It interesting how we think we know something until we really see it up close.