During her first week as a volunteer at a homeless shelter in downtown Boston, then an undergraduate at Boston University, Clarinda Blais, noticed that between meals and appointments, patrons of the shelter were crammed into large “waiting rooms,” where they passed time in silence.
The residents looked bored. And, given her upbringing in a rural, economically depressed area in upstate New York, that was a feeling Blais identified with. As she stood in the corner of the resource room, she recalled that she ceased to experience boredom after she had undertaken studies in philosophy. She thought perhaps philosophy could be of benefit to others the way it had her. Thus, upon receiving a generous seed grant from her philosophy department in the summer of 2015, she began sharing the notes she took during class at the Women’s Lunch Place and the St. Francis House, two homeless shelter in Downtown Boston.
The Free Philosophy Project, an organization which now spans over 10 shelters throughout the Boston area and has students from throughout the city, contributing to its efforts, with plans for further expansion.
While the Free Philosophy Project understands and respects that the most immediate needs of the homeless are ones that concern shelter, food, medical care, and clothing, the founders of the group are also certain that all people need thoughtful and positive interactions with others. To assume that philosophy has no place in serving the needs of the poor is grounded in misconceptions about philosophy, and human nature in general. Furthermore, we hope that philosophy is something patrons of the shelters can take with them, and do anywhere.