In the kitchen, Paxton stirred a bubbling pot on the stove. He once pulled in more than $200,000 a year in Northern Virginia, but he had taken the part-time job as the shelter's director when his commissions dwindled to almost nothing.
Paxton, 55, noticed Schneider right away. Wearing a knit cap and a slightly dazed expression, hers was one of the few female faces in a sea of mostly Latino men awaiting the noon meal. He said hello, and soon they'd swapped stories.
"We have a lot of common ground," Paxton says. "Same business: trying to get people into homes."
Now it is Schneider who needs a home. And over the past six weeks, Paxton has tried to help her - shepherding her to different shelters to find an open bed, giving her food and calmly taking her calls when her perilous situation frays her emotions past the breaking point.
Although Schneider, 43, is grateful for the help, their alliance is shaky at times. She doesn't hide her bitterness that the man trying to help her - a colleague, really - still has his charming gray-and-white colonial in Fairfax Station, while she lost it all.
"Don't get me wrong - Rob is a nice guy," she says. "But you really have to live it to know what it's like."
One recent afternoon, a crowd of more than 100 gathers for lunch at Safe Haven at First Christian Church of Falls Church. Some play chess, others grab a much-needed nap on mattresses nearby.
The church has operated the center for more than a decade with the help of other congregations and a $30,000 county grant from the Falls Church Community Services Council.
They are serving Cajun red beans and rice, and Paxton sits down with Schneider to eat. Schneider, who is health-conscious, eschews rice in favor of salad.
"How are the beans?" he asks her.
She chews, thinking. "Kinda hard," she says.
"I was afraid of that," he says. "I guess you call it 'al dente.' "
She has a good laugh at that one.
" 'Al dente,' yeah," she says.
She used to love to cook, back when she had an apartment in Alexandria, a new Honda Accord and her own mortgage business. She wasn't rich, but she was comfortable, able to afford dinners out - grilled salmon and a nice pinot grigio - and $100 salon treatments for her hair. In her spare time, she organized community bike rides along the George Washington Parkway.
She'd worked in the mortgage business in Northern Virginia since 1998. Then, in 2005, searching for a change of scenery, she moved to Texas and took a job as a loan officer at Countrywide Financial, the home-loan behemoth now owned by Bank of America, whose lax lending practices made it the poster child of boom excess.
She was named a top rookie - and has the little plastic paperweight to prove it - but began to feel claustrophobic in her cubicle as she and her fellow loan officers were driven to make more and ever riskier loans.