Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Organizers with the recently formed Give Someone a Chance, a new organization working with local homeless people, worked with a handful of volunteers cleaning up multiple homeless camps in Sonora on Wednesday.

The effort was the beginning of what G-SAC founders Hazel and Dick Mitchell say will eventually be a full-fledged homeless advocacy group and shelter in Tuolumne County.

The group, which included the Mitchells and a handful of homeless people with whom they have been working, focused Tuesday's efforts on three sites near the former Whitt Mill in Sonora. When the group toured the site last month, all three were contaminated with litter from years of transients camping and illegal dumping.

Joshua "Tennessee" Williamson, who worked all day with Tony Mendiola, James Kurth and Matthew Johnson, said there was clearly debris from both illegal dumping and many camps.

"Years," Williamson said when asked how long he believed some of the debris had been there. "Under the dirt, there was even more garbage."

The Mitchells said they have about a dozen people who have pledged to work to clean up sites around Sonora like the ones tackled Wednesday. They have also reached out for support to local charity organizations and city and county government.

Eventually, they want to clean up many more camps, dumps and littered sites scattered throughout the county.

Hazel Mitchell said the organization is also looking for grant funds to possibly compensate the participants for their work, though right now it's all volunteer. Mitchell said Williamson and others in the community brought the idea to the Mitchells in hopes to offer community service and show the homeless population can contribute.

"We know they would work hard, because they're hard workers," Hazel Mitchell said. "They want to be part of the community, to be accepted. They're not bums. They just don't have a job."

Retirees - Hazel from nursing and Dick from a career as an engineer - the Mitchells have worked with homeless people for more than a year. With an active board of directors, G-SAC is also working to open a shelter in a business park near Tuolumne Road and Eagle Drive.

Last month, the group received a permit from the county to move forward on the project, which would involve multiple phases and include a 42-bed housing unit for men, a thrift shop, a 34-bed women's shelter and a shop for vocational training. The Mitchells say they also plan to offer job training and employment referrals at the location for local needy, homeless and veterans.

They are in the midst of fundraising for the $1.3 million project, and on Tuesday Hazel Mitchell requested Tuolumne County officials consider their plan when applying to the federal Community Development Block Grant program later this year.

Sonora City Councilwoman Connie Williams has also been involved in the effort, and she said Wednesday that the organization will be good for the community, especially with its emphasis on work skills and improving the community.

"They want to help themselves, and if there's a way for the community to make that happen, then it's a benefit for the community," Williams said.

To contact G-SAC, call 694-5501.