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Falls Church is no stranger to wealth. The Northern Virginia city has a median income of more than $113,000. But if you look past its big homes and pricey cars, and follow a small dark road into an obscure industrial area, you will find the city's only shelter, serving 12 homeless individuals every night during the winter months.
"I get the satisfaction because I believe everybody, every person, needs the basic needs," says Lance Flowers, who's been the shelter's program coordinator for the past four years. "I feel like in my position, I give them the basic needs, and the basic needs consist of shelter, food, and water. Those basic needs are what we need to survive and what we do here is provide that."
Flowers works with volunteers from Friends of Falls Church, a local civic organization, to ensure that every person staying in the shelter has a meal, a bed, and information on other resources in the city. Each resident also has access to showers, a shared TV and a computer. For returning clients, Flowers works to find employment and longer term housing, two issues that can become giant hurdles to overcome in the relatively short timeframe the shelter is open.
"The shelter lasts for only four months, so when it comes to April 1, you have people that have not found employment, have not found housing, so their only option may be to go back to a tent," he says.
It's a situation that is far from ideal, but nonetheless a reality for many of the people he sees. Still, Flowers says, the shelter receives a lot of support from the surrounding community of Falls Church.
"Even though it's one of the richest cities, I think that people that are less fortunate around here receive a lot more services than the average person in D.C.," he says.
The desire to make a difference
Flowers started work at the shelter as an employee of New Hope Housing four years ago. He developed an interest in homeless issues growing up as a child and seeing the inner city poverty first-hand.
"What I wanted to do was give back and try to make a difference, maybe in someone else's life so that I can be a part of improving their situation," he says.
He volunteered with his church on numerous occasions, but it wasn't until he was laid off from his job at Chrysler in Ohio that he decided to move to Virginia and take the plunge into social work full-time.
Now he commands the respect of everyone at the shelter, both client and volunteers alike. Any grumpy attitudes don't stand a chance against his contagious smile and laughter. He's a man who wears his optimism on his sleeve despite what can be at times very challenging situations.
"What keeps me going is knowing that somebody is not out there without shelter, without food, without water," he says. "That's what drives me to not turn a blind eye to that. If I can't provide them housing or employment or the goals that they set, at least I can provide them their basic needs in this time where it's very cold outside.
[Music: "Working for the Weekend" by The Brown Derbies from We Deliver]