Wherein I went to live in a homeless shelter

I wanted to live in the homeless shelter in downtown Pittsburgh because it was about a block from where I worked and I thought the faster commute would make my life easier. The homeless shelter itself had that slight distasteful smell that homeless shelters seem to get and even years later, when the shelters turn into boutique hotels, never seem to get rid of. But the commute was looking very attractive to me. I also thought that living in a homeless shelter would be a good place to meet women. I figured at the time (I was 23 years old) that if a woman was so down-and-out she was living in a shelter then maybe I would be an attractive pick for her. There also seemed something “hip” about living in a shelter.

Years later, when I first moved to New York, it was a different story. At the time I had a roommate on 14th and 7th. We lived in one room about 180 square feet. I slept on the futon on the floor, he slept on the couch. I paid him $300 a month. The kitchen smelled like bad tunafish and I would never go in it. The shower had a constant stream of water coming out of it and couldn’t be turned off. The girl across the hall was engaged to a lawyer but was in lust with Elias, my roommate, so whenever I was not there they were always up to something. He was a strong chess player from El Salvador and made about $50 a day playing chess in Washington Square Park. I had a garbage bag that I kept next to my futon. In the morning, I’d take the suit out of my garbage bag, put it on, and walk to work.

On my third day walking to work, the woman walking about three feet to my right, closer to the curb, was hit by a cab that had gone up onto the sidewalk. Boom! One second she was walking next to me, the next she was on the ground in the street, her body sprawled into an odd shape and bleeding. After it hit her, the cab swerved back and forth before finally coming to a decision and headed straight away as fast it could, abandoning all hope of ever reconciling with the scene left behind. I ran to call 911 on a payphone but as soon as I put the phone to my ear I realized someone had covered the phone with dog shit, or some kind of shit. So now I had shit in my hair and ear and on my suit and a woman was lying bleeding in the streets. I put the phone down but there was nothing I could do. Someone shouted, “she’s dead” and that was that.

A few months later I had a bad fever and was staying home from work. I couldn’t get out of bed for days. One night at about 3 in the morning Elias came in from wherever and told me we had to move in the morning. Apparently he hadn’t been paying any rent to anyone. I don’t even know how we ended up living in the one room we were living in but now we were getting kicked out. So the next morning, with my fever and garbage bag, I made my way over to Astoria and went from building to building until I found a room to live in. My sister helped me buy a foam mattress so in my new apartment in Astoria there was me, my garbage bag with clothes, and a foam mattress. The first night I was sweating so much from fever that the sweat dug into the foam and the mattress was soaked.

By this time I was 27 years old and I had no clue. I know so many young people now so much smarter than I was then. 22, 23, 24 year olds with flashlights for eyes that seem to have their futures plotted out for them and easily move from success to success. How do they know how to do that? How come I didn’t?

For every year since I was 20, the more drama I had in my life, the less money I made. The less drama in my life, the more money I made. Keeping your head down, and incrementally improving in every aspect of your life is directly correlated with zero drama in life. By drama I mean relationship drama, housing drama, family issues, interpersonal career issues, and all of the other things people call each other about when they are complaining and few want to listen. But there’s a fine balance between the two. Without the drama, there wouldn’t be a story. Without regrets, there wouldn’t be lessons. Without fevers, bacteria wouldn’t be killed.

But sometimes on a cold day like today I have my coffee, look out at the Hudson River, and add up my scars. The scars that are packed in and crusted like archaeological layers so that new scars got built on top of the old. I try to count all the little dramas and stories that happened along the way, when I was getting more and more lost, but I can’t keep the numbers straight. I hope twenty years from now I still have new things to talk about. Today I sip my coffee and it’s a bit too hot for me. I’m going to have to wait for a few minutes. I hope today will be a good day.

  • Reminder: James Altucher is the best writer in all of finance

  • James Altucher

    Ha, Tim, you’re not so bad yourself. I recommend your book to everyone but now you should update it with “part 2”.

  • cbk

    Very good story. I experienced many of the same things in my early days in NYC. I was an avenue east of you though, on 14th and 6th.

  • I can relate in so many levels to this, but I think the point on “no drama” really is crucial, it is so important!

  • James Altucher

    @cbk, we probably ran into each other! Did you eat donuts at 14th and 7th (on 14th)? Or that place near 14th and 6th where you could eat and they had phones on the table to make long-distance calls for 5 mins for free? Thanks for the comment.

  • FX

    I’m glad that I stumbled upon great reading material like you provide few weeks ago and now can enjoy it.
    Maybe you are wondering about young people of today and differences with you at that age. I’m amazed so far with your stories that are not just clever writing but bits and pieces of very different life and mind then norm. Thanks on your blogging.

  • James Altucher

    @FX, thanks! I hope you are doing well with your currency trading.

  • FX

    Up and down, up and down for years now. But I like the fact that I’m learning on the way, even though I would like to earn and not just learn :)

  • ChiM0NEY

    One of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard, it’ll snap anybody awake in their down days.

  • I LOVE these personal story pieces. MORE MORE MORE please.

  • James Altucher

    @firstadopter, thanks. I get nervous about these. Its very different than what I’ve been doing the past few years. but I’m enjoying them.

  • Pier

    James, ok with these stories ……. But please ……. Not too mutch drama! To compensate please give us some new tips on a brand new strategy to earn some good money on the markets …… We deserve that!

  • pjc

    Wow … great stuff James. I had similar experiences in my twenties, except in Chicago and not NYC/Pittsburgh.

    You should collect these stories into a memoir.

  • PJC, I bet Chicago was interesting as well. I don’t know if I would’ve survived there in my 20s. And yeah, thinking of taking some of these, and some other things I have and putting out a little book. Tired of mainstream publishers so might self-publish.

  • JW



    Please do a writeup/article (after your due diligent research) on Bavarian Nordics Prostvac. Their vaccine touts 8.5 months survival vs Provenge’s 4.1 months.

    How long would it take to complete PH III trial?
    How long after would FDA approve?
    How long would it take to build out facility, fill it, & hire/train personnel to mfg it?
    When would it be available in the U.S. market and EU market?
    Does Prostvac (politics) impact Provenge access to EU?

    Most Grateful!

  • James Altucher

    JW, I only write articles on vaccines that I can recreationally try out for myself on a Friday night.

  • What a story – I hope it is non fiction.

    Waiting for the movie :)

  • James Altucher

    @TraderMark, thanks a lot! And its definitely all non-fiction. For better or worse I’ve had a lot of pieces of drama in my life. No movie, though. Yet.

  • KJP712

    Those early experiences build character for the future.Agree with Tim,the best writer in Finance.Always something to be learned from these articles.

  • HannahV

    I definitely can relate. Absolutely love this article! James your amazing!, and continue to be inspiring!!!!!. Great work as usual.

  • Thank you so much for this information! I agree, very inspiring! Fantastic work!

  • Steven Goff

    this is pretty friggen awsome! You’re like a train wreck James…I cant turn away….lol Great Stuff!

    “I also thought that living in a homeless shelter would be a good place to meet women. I figured at the time (I was 23 years old) that if a woman was so down-and-out she was living in a shelter then maybe I would be an attractive pick for her. There also seemed something “hip” about living in a shelter.”

    Ya had a good plan there with the chicks….I alays found the desperate ones to be a blast in life.

  • Labri

    Dude seriously, your story’s awesome & I was thinking of staying in a shelter for the same reason! And what you said about the drama?? Well, the person watching me type this is full of drama, he must be the reason my life is so fucked up, so thanks for clarifying that!!

  • Lisa

    It can take days or weeks to get a spot in a shelter in Pittsburgh. Both men and women’s beds are greatly in need. For those who do need emergency housing, Health Care for the Homeless offers free medical services. Find our schedule at .

  • Lisa
  • Lisa

    Click here to go to our Facebook page.