Hazel and Dick Mitchell are working with others at multiple sites in Sonora with the hopes of eventually moving beyond the city and into camps throughout Tuolumne County.
“There’s a whole lot of unsightly places,” Hazel Mitchell said. “What we want to do is impress on the homeless community that this is unacceptable.”
The local retirees — Hazel from nursing and Dick from a career as an engineer — have worked with homeless people for more than a year. They eventually hope to open a shelter to serve that population and have founded a non-profit organization called Give Someone A Chance (G-SAC).
Hazel Mitchell said last week that they are still looking for funding for future operations. They have also received help from several businesses and organizations.
“We feel as though when we get momentum, we will be able to get some more (support),” she said.
About 190 homeless families without children, and about 30 with children, lived in Tuolumne County as of January of this year, an annual survey conducted by the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency found.
Many live in camps in isolated spots around the county, and the locations are usually littered with trash and debris from both the campers and people who illegally dump rubbish in the locations.
Mitchell said she and her husband decided to focus on the homeless camps after working with Joshua “Tennessee” Williamson, a local man who has been homeless himself. Williamson has gathered a group of about a dozen homeless individuals who have pledged to clean up campsites around the area.
Williamson said local law enforcement conducted multiple raids last year of homeless camps, and after that wanted to find a way for the community to do some good and get some work done. While a lot of the homeless don’t want to work, he said, a lot of them do. And this is one way to spend that energy
“If they could get on a set schedule, they can use it to help get their lives back together,” Williamson said.
The group toured a handful of camps on Friday around Sonora, many of which had years of trash and debris accumulated on hillsides and in gullies.
Sonora City Councilwoman Connie Williams and local Waste Management representative Tom Teach both have been working on the project, as well.
Mitchell said they want to clean up sites in Sonora first, and hopefully will expand to homeless camps around the county. But considering the population she’s dealing with, she knows the effort will require success and good will early on to move forward.
“This is like starting fresh with the community,” she said.