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Memphis veteran buys run-down homes, fixes them, gives them to families in need

“We’re here because we see the things that are going on and we’re putting action behind it,” said Brad Bell, a Flanders Fields volunteer.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Violent crimes, blight and drug activity has been at the forefront of many conversations in Memphis. Community members all across the city have spoken out against these problems in hopes of finding solutions.

Ben Owen knows struggle all too well. “I used to buy dope out of this house almost 10 years ago,” said Owen, of Flanders Fields. “Kicked out of the halfway house, kicked out of drug court, eventually bottomed out homeless in South Memphis.”

Where Owen hit rock bottom is exactly where he is rising to the top. He is a veteran. “I figured if I could run 70 safe houses in Afghanistan, we could probably run some safe houses in America,” said Owen. “I’m coming right back to the street that broke me and try to help other broken people from the exact same place I started.”

Owen started Flanders Field with an initiative called Operation Buy Back the Block. “We’re trying to find houses in high narcotic trafficking areas because those are the two areas of focus, make contact with the owners of the houses, and see if we could acquire them,” said Owen.

After fixing up the properties, he is letting others facing addiction and homelessness live rent-free starting with a single mother veteran. “We’re looking for a safe place for people who have gotten sober to live, be able to feed their kids, raise their family,” said Owen.

Flanders Field acquired four homes in South Memphis.

“Honestly, this is what keeps me sober,” said Owen.

“Four years ago, is when I turned myself into a treatment center to start my recovery journey myself. Here I am four years later, being able to give it back,” said Brad Bell, Flanders Fields’ volunteer.

Bell is also a veteran. He works for A-Team Roofing who will be replacing the roof of one of the houses for free. “We’re here because we see the things that are going on and we’re putting action behind it,” said Bell. “I hope to see 20 more of me or 30 more of me or 40 more of me that have been given that second chance and know what it feels like to lead a different life and give it to someone else.”

It is a life formerly of struggle and now of impact. Those who move into the homes will also volunteer with the organization. Owen began working on the first house Thursday evening. He hopes to have it completed and the first family moved in within 90 days. 

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