One Square Mile: The Shepherd’s Inn

Photograph by Dustin Chambers
Photograph by Dustin Chambers

The Shepherd’s Inn | Atlanta Mission, Downtown

Between night and day, between Centennial Olympic Park and the county jail, Jimmy Rivas is praying. He and his coworkers have agreed to spend one year within these walls, recovering from alcohol or other drugs. In five minutes, they will serve breakfast. The workers have been here since 4 a.m., cooking sausage and biscuits and oatmeal for roughly 230 people who slept here last night. Standing to Jimmy’s left is a man in an orange shirt. A moment ago, he stirred the oatmeal in a large vat with the joy of a child playing in a sandbox. The man in orange is 50 years old. He used to do cocaine back when he played the drums in a rock band. He drank a lot, beat people up, fell into ditches, passed out on the floor. They told him he was one arrest from doing hard time, so he came here and played drums in the chapel band and whipped up the oatmeal and said, “Manna from heaven! Manna from heaven!” Jimmy Rivas is still praying. He is not so free with his story as the man in orange, but in a moment, while chopping vegetables, he’ll say, “Just working hard to change me. Change my life. Better direction.” Frost covers the ground outside. In the dining room through the high windows, you can see the yellow ring of lights on the Westin Peachtree Plaza above a luminous billboard for Crown Royal whiskey. “Amen,” Jimmy says, and the metal window rolls open, and the hungry men collect their breakfast, plates clattering on the sill, and the man in orange is drinking something from a paper cup—a kale smoothie, as it turns out—and he says, “I’m pretty grateful to be here.”

This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.