KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just like how the leaves change in the fall, U.S. Army veteran Willie Fleming Jr. is changing, too.

“I’m on my way up,” he said.

He served in the Army from 1986-1989 but said he received an honorable hardship discharge to help his mom who was dying of cancer. From there, things got tough.

“It was just mainly trials and tribulations of life,” he said. “I had my own business and then a lot of things went wrong, so I had to start over.”

Fleming ended up homeless years later, something an estimated 40,000 U.S. veterans will experience in 2023, per the Department of Veterans Affairs, along with almost 500 veterans in Missouri.

That’s how he arrived at Benilde Hall in Kansas City’s eastside.

The organization helps more than 160 veterans each year through its three different programs.

Benilde Hall’s mission is to provide services for treating substance use disorder, mental health and homelessness, so people can return to the community as responsible, employed and permanently housed contributing members of society.

At any given time, 55 beds are available to veterans whether they need help with housing or overcoming addiction.

Veterans like Fleming get to Benilde Hall through the VA’s office, which determines which of the three programs they’re put into: Grant and Per Diem, Emergency Bed or Safe Haven.

The last two programs are housing-first models, meaning their top priority is helping veterans get into permanent housing. 

“Our veterans have obviously given a lot, and to be able to give in return, that’s just a beautiful thing,” said Hannah Bradley, the organization’s clinical director.

Fleming just submitted an application for an apartment Wednesday, so he hopes to be on his own within the month — something he knows wouldn’t be possible without the services provided at Benilde Hall.

“It’s a blessing more than anything because I wouldn’t really know how to really get there from here,” he said.

Benilde Hall receives federal funding each year, including $400,000 from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which it used to create a new onsite building to provide eight veterans with their own room and bathroom.