Because He Can

Advocating for the marginalized is Will Hoch’s calling

Published in 2023 Oklahoma Super Lawyers magazine

By Hannah Black on October 13, 2023

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Will Hoch was an undergrad in Washington, D.C. when he first became involved in addressing the issue of homelessness. His university offered a variety of volunteer opportunities to its students, including working with the food kitchen at SOME (So Others Might Eat). He would work the food line in the dining room, serving out meals to those in need.

Hoch has continued to help those experiencing homelessness for decades, even longer than he’s been practicing law. As he sees it, there are endless ways lawyers can use their skills to address the issue. Doing so could mean providing representation in an eviction hearing, analyzing a contract for someone trying to acquire a home, or helping a veteran access the right care or benefits through the VA. “[It] is just advocating for the marginalized in our society, about trying to treat them more humanely,” Hoch says. “It’s some of the most enjoyable work that I’ve ever done.”

When he moved back to Oklahoma City after law school in D.C, Hoch became involved with the ABA’s Commission on Homelessness & Poverty, serving as the organization’s chair from 2001 to 2005. In 2006, he contributed to an e-book titled Lawyers Working to End Homelessness, which was published by the American Bar Association and includes his essay “Because We Can: Using Our Legal Skills to End Homelessness.”

A general litigator at Crowe & Dunlevy, Hoch has spent 30 years practicing law in Oklahoma City. He currently provides outside general counsel for City Rescue Mission, an organization that works to find solutions to support those experiencing homelessness. He was previously a board member for nine years and served as a past chair for the group. Hoch’s co-worker Jerome Holmes—now the chief U.S. circuit judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, then working down the hall from Hoch at Crowe & Dunlevy—first brought Hoch into the organization.

The motivation to do all of this, Hoch says, came simply from recognizing the humanity in unhoused people.

“You see people that are just like you … and you realize that’s somebody’s mom and dad or uncle or brother or sister that has just fallen down on their luck,” Hoch says. “So many times they’re the people that we don’t see—people step over them in the street. … If I was in that situation, I would want somebody to want to acknowledge me, to talk to me, and I would hope that if I was in that situation that I could find help and assistance from someone who had enough compassion to help me out of that situation.”

Hoch also helped start a group in Oklahoma City nicknamed “The Do-Gooders,” which began as a group of lawyer and nonlawyer advocates working on eviction mediation. Finally, in October 2019, after more than 20 years of work, the group got a chance to implement a “homeless court” in the city. Officially called the Community Court Program, the partnership between the Oklahoma City Municipal Court and the Homeless Alliance exists to help local people who are experiencing homelessness clear outstanding municipal citations and fines, a barrier that often keeps them trapped in a cycle of criminalization and poverty. Hoch says the concept was started and has been proliferated by the ABA commission, which has established best practices and guidelines for this type of court.

“You can literally see the burden lifted off these individuals’ shoulders when they are relieved of that financial burden,” he says.

Talking and spending time with unhoused people, Hoch says, is often when he feels closest to God. “If you can be your brother’s keeper for a while and help them out of a difficult situation or do something that’s going to benefit the homeless population in some form or fashion,” he says, “it’s just what we need to do and what my calling is.”

How to Get Involved

Hoch encourages anyone interested in getting involved with the ABA’s Commission on Homelessness & Poverty to visit ambar.org/homeless, @ABACHP on Facebook or @ABA_CHP on Twitter. Anyone experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma City, he adds, should contact City Rescue Mission by calling 405-232-2709, emailing [email protected] or visiting its location at 800 W. California Ave.

Hoch, center, with others involved with City Rescue Mission, an organization that works to find solution to support those experiencing homelessness.

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