Not long after she moved to Atlanta in 1980, Ann Connor became
involved in serving the citys homeless population. She began
as any young nurse wouldshe helped out medically.
A lot of her efforts were in an area not often considered when
thinking about the many problems the homeless face: foot care. The
subject, however, is quite crucial. After all, someone without a
home spends much of their time walking, often in less-than-adequate
footwear if they even have shoes at all.
It was only after inviting a homeless man home for supper that
Connor noticed the severity of the problems.
People were on the street in poorly fitting shoes and wet
socks. They had dirty feet and they wound up with some serious health
issues, said Connor, a clinical associate professor of community
health nursing in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.
So, I started to do some education in the shelters about
footcare and I was getting more and more conscious and aware of
all the health problems the homeless were dealing with.
Connor decided to take more serious action. She saw that the homeless
not only needed a roof over their heads, but in most cases their
support networks had completely eroded. They had no one to turn
to for anything. Their lives needed to be totally rebuilt.
Connor chose to give the homeless a home.
In the winter of 1981, Connor was co-coordinating a homeless shelter
at Oakhurst Baptist Church. With spring approaching, the shelter,
which was meant to be seasonal, was about to close. That would send
the people who had been living there back on the street.
Connor noticed that three of the peopletwo of them physically
disabled, one mentallywould be particularly vulnerable to
living again on the street. So she and her husband, A.B. Short,
devised a plan.
We decided to buy a house near the church, renovate it, and
invite people to come live with us, Connor said.
From 1982 to 1994, a steady stream of homeless people trying to
catch a break and get back on their feet and volunteer workers involved
in social justice in the city lived with Connor and Short, often
for months, even years, at a time.
Most of us have lots of circles of support: family, friends,
community, work, social outlets, Connor said. By the
time you get to be homeless, you tend to have very few circles of
support. You might have one or two people you might be able lean
on, but its real easy to fall down.
Connor has spent a good bit of time picking the homeless back up.
In 1988, Short undertook a major effort to create a forward-thinking,
support network. They opened Café 458, so named because of
its address on Edgewood Ave., in the heart in the Martin Luther
King Jr. National Historic District. Connor assisted in volunteer
The café is unique in the care it provides. Hardly a traditional
soup kitchen, the café was a full-service restaurant right
down to the wait staff and a flower on the table that catered to
The cafés customers, who are referred by social service
agencies, and served hot meals and have access to medical care,
drug and alcohol treatment, counseling, references to employment
services, phone access and even a mailing address.
The shelter has room for about dozen people, and the cozy café
Its a small, relationship-centered way of being with
people, Connor said.
The cafés program is intense, as well. Most recovery
programs range in length from 28 days to as little as three. Café
458s is a minimum of six months, and the results have been
According to a study conducted by Morehouse College psychology
Associate Professor Harold Braithwaite, the cafés relapse
rate was 10 percent, compared to the national average of 90 percent.
I was dumbfounded by that, Connor said. We were
looking at people who were probably least likely to be successful
because of their hardcore use and few life skills. Even if the statistics
were off, those numbers said the café was doing something
Because of these successes several other restaurants and recovery
programs based on the Café 458 model have opened across the
Connor isnt as involved with the homeless to the level she
once was. The café now is run by Samaritan House, a local
nonprofit group, and she makes only occasional visitsusually
with students. She continues to volunteer, though, seeing patients
at the Grant Park Health Center.
Connor and Short no longer live in the house near Oakhurst Baptist.
With their volunteer work never really allowing them any downtime,
they and daughter Egan, now 10, decided to pull back a bit and move
outside the perimeter (Connor also has a stepson, Justin Short,
who graduated from Emory in 1995).
On campus, Connor teaches one nursing school class and assists
in the public health nursing masters program. In January,
Connor traveled to Cuba as part of a program sponsored by Emorys
Lillian Carter Center for International Nursing. While Connor called
the 10-day trip an eye-opening experience, it wasnt the first
time she had worked with Cubans.
Her parents had taken in Cuban refugees when she was a child and
in the early 1980s, she was involved in efforts to assist the Marielitos,
the Cuban refugeesmany of them judged as criminals in their
home countrywho were allowed into the U.S. by President Jimmy
Carter. At the time Connor saw them, they were housed in the Atlanta
When I mentioned my familys involvement with the Cuban
refugees and my work with the Marielitos, our Cuban hosts made no
reply. The staff just shut down, Connor said. I was
left unsure about what this meant and what else was not to be discussed.
Despite the countrys sometimes difficult economic times,
Cuba ranks near the top of many health care categories.
Low infant mortality and a high literacy are just two things that
set Cuba apart from its Caribbean neighbors, Connor said.
Connor added that statistics cant always be trusted, but
that Cuba fine performance in several aspects of care mean that
the country and its methods should be studied. A focus on primary
health care, Connor said, is one of the reasons for Cubas
Theyre doing some good things and we need to be paying
attention to that, she said. Whether we agree with their
political philosophies or not, we can learn some things that would
benefit the health and social structure in this country.