How to Make Money Donating Plasma When Homeless

A nurse prepares a person's arm for plasma donation.

One of the best ways to make money when you’re struggling and homeless is by donating plasma. Millions of people donate plasma for cash every year and some homeless people have even slowly saved up the money they’ve made over time and used it to get back on their feet. But not everybody is eligible to donate and there’s many things you should know about it before you decide to do it.

Blood plasma is a component of your blood that makes up a good portion of the liquid part of your blood. It helps your blood cells move throughout your body and helps wounds to clot and heal when you’re injured. It has many other uses in your body as well as in medical research and by helping people who need it when they’re having problems with blood loss or plasma in their own bodies.

The proteins contained in blood plasma are often used to make different types of pharmaceutical medicines as well. This is why plasma donation centers often pay homeless people (and just about anyone who qualifies) decent money to donate it, because they then normally resell it to medical companies and pharmaceutical companies for big bucks.

I’ve personally donated plasma too many times to count in my life, so here’s a rundown on what to expect so you can decide whether it’s worth your time or not.

How Much Can You Make?
You’ll normally be paid better money with your first few donations or so and most companies have promo offers to get you through the front door and donating. I’ve donated at companies such as Biomat USA, Octapharma, and Grifols USA. They all offered more money initially for the first 3-5 donations or so. For example, Biomat offered me about $60 for the first 5 donations, then about $40 for each donation after that.

The lowest I’ve been offered by a company after the initial donations was $25, so companies and what they offer can vary. Your body weight can also play a major role, because a heavier person with more body weight and fat will normally produce more plasma and the company can therefore make more money off of them. Because I weigh just under 150 pounds, which is a common cut-off threshold for weight, I am normally paid about $10-$15 less than people who weigh a bit more.

How to Get Started
To get started with donating plasma, you’ll need to find a donation center near you. This might make it impossible for some people to donate as you’ll normally only find plasma donation companies in large urban cities in most cases.

If you do happen to live in a city and are able to find a donation center in your area, the first thing that they’ll probably want you to do is to register with them. You should call them, send them an email, or check their website to see what you need to do as all companies can be different.

But normally, a company will want you to register with them by having you fill out a questionnaire first that asks about your medical history, whether you have any recent tattoos, diseases, or problems with your blood.

They may also ask you if you’ve recently been incarcerated or if you live in a group home with other people who may be at risk of diseases. Recent surgeries or situations where you may have lost blood or been on lots of medications that could affect your blood may also be asked about.

All of these things can screen you out and disqualify you from donating plasma. They do test plasma for diseases and other things before selling it to companies that have patients who will use your plasma in their bodies, but they still want to make sure they’re not wasting their own time and money by having people donating plasma that they may not be able to use.

After you fill out a questionnaire, they’ll normally want you to do a physical with an on-site nurse or doctor which usually doesn’t take longer than 10 minutes. But because so many people donate plasma in large cities and there’s often already lines of people outside the doors before the companies even open, this whole registration process and waiting to donate for the first time can often take hours. I’ve donated at a few different places, and one place actually took me 4 hours to get through registering and the process of actually donating for the first time.

Sometimes they may not even allow you to donate that very first day because they’ll be too backed up with people who are already registered and will ask new registrants to come back the next day for the actual donation process. This is rare but I have known a few people that this happened to when trying to donate in largely populated cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Preparing Your Body Before Donation
Keep in mind that donating plasma requires your body to be in good shape. So you’ll want to drink plenty of fluids beforehand and watch what you eat before you actually go to donate. It’s best to eat a small, healthy meal less than a few hours before you donate, and don’t eat any fried or greasy food or food high in sodium (salt) the night before or right before donating.

You’ll want your blood to flow smoothly when donating and eating the wrong things can cause it to move slow like molasses and will cause the whole donation process to take longer or you may even have to return another day if it’s not being collected from the body quick enough.

You’ll also want to avoid caffeine and alcohol the night before or that day as these can dehydrate you and make the process of plasma collection more difficult.

What is the Donation Process Like?
When you’re donating plasma, a nurse or medical assistant will hook an IV tube to a vein in your arm normally while you’re lying down in a type of bed. It’s normally a very comfortable environment where there will be 50 or so people all in one room lying down while watching TV’s that are placed around the room near the ceilings.

The TV’s will normally have movies playing to distract you while you’re donating so you don’t get bored as the whole process can take a very long time.

What’s happening with the IV tube during this process is that it starts pumping blood out of you body in the same way that you’d normally see if you were to donate blood to a hospital or The Red Cross. It pumps the blood out of your body in waves, which will usually last for a few minutes or so or up to 10 minutes for each “wave”.

Then the machine that your blood was pumped into separates the plasma from the blood and returns everything that is not plasma back into your body through the same IV tube.

So while you’re lying there donating, the nurse will sometimes tell you that you can form your hand into a fist and gently tighten your hand repeatedly so it pumps blood out much faster during the collection process. This can sometimes speed things up and make the whole process much easier for you.

How Long Does the Donation Process Take?
Donating plasma usually takes about 1-2 hours for most people, but in rare situations it can take as long as 3 hours if your blood is not moving quickly enough. Again, this is why it’s important to mention the fact that you should be watching what you eat or drink before you visit any donation center.

While it normally takes me about one hour to donate, I did have one experience where it took me 3 hours to donate and even then, they were unable to collect a full amount of plasma from me and could not pay me the full amount that I was told I’d be paid.

What Happens When You’re All Finished?
When you’re all finished you’ll know it in most facilities because the machine will beep or otherwise indicate in some way that it’s finished collecting your plasma.

You may even see certain lights on the machine light up or turn off, but the nurses or assistants there will usually let you know how you can tell when you’re finished. Because you’re listening for the beep, this is why some places will not want you to wear headphones or listen to music while you’re donating, although some companies have no problem with this.

At that point they’ll either come over to you if they see the machine has stopped collecting or you’ll have to raise your hand up which is what I’ve usually had to do. Once someone comes over to you they’ll start unhooking you from the machine and will probably ask you to hold a piece of cotton over the area where they took plasma from while they wrap your arm in a gauze bandage.

Now what a lot of people are tempted to do is to pull the bandage off as soon as they walk out of the donation room. Regardless of how embarrassing it is to have a bandage wrapped around your arm or how uncool or weak you think it makes you look, leave it on.

I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people take it off and bleed all over the floors or parking lot outside. Giving plasma is not the same as having your blood taken with a syringe and needle as the hole they create in your arm is a bit larger and it’s recommended that you leave the bandage on for at least an hour or two so you don’t drip blood all over the place and embarrass yourself further.

After an hour or two when you finally do take the bandage off, your arm will have lines all over the skin from the tightness of the bandage and the area where you were stuck will have a small hole but nothing too scary looking. Within a day the hole will start to heal and within a few days it won’t be very noticeable or will be completely gone.

After donating you’ll most likely feel a little weak, depending on how much food and liquids you consumed beforehand.

The more hydrated you are, the less symptoms you’ll have afterwards and the same goes for food as well, though hydration seems just a slight bit more important as most facilities will tell you to drink plenty of liquids, but to consume small meals beforehand.

The weakness you feel is more like fatigue and feels slightly similar to how you feel with a caffeine crash after drinking a soda or coffee and it begins to wear off later in the day. It doesn’t seem to last long and shouldn’t be too severe and eating a good meal and drinking more fluids after the process will definitely help you to recover.

When Can You Donate Again?
Because it takes most people’s bodies about 48 hours to regenerate plasma, the FDA (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) requires companies to prevent you from donating more than twice a week.

Also, there must be 48 hours between donations for this reason. Some companies may not allow you to donate more than a few times in a month as different companies have different policies.

When you donate plasma at one company, they will often stamp your hand with a special type of invisible ink that can only be seen under a UV light. This way, you can’t just go to another donation center the next day and donate again without them knowing about the first place you donated to because the ink can be very difficult to wash off for a few days.

Are there Any Risks Involved?
The risks of donating plasma are similar to the risks of donating blood, because when you donate blood you’re losing plasma as well.

While it’s extremely rare, there have been reports of some people with unrealized health conditions having problems with their blood after donating plasma.Other people have had problems afterwards such as dehydration, dizziness or tingling feelings, blackouts, and general fatigue.

One risk is the risk of hypocalcemia, which basically means your body doesn’t have enough calcium in the blood. Because the substance known as citrate (anĀ anticoagulant) is administered into your blood during the donation process to prevent it from clotting, this can cause low calcium levels in the blood as it has a large impact on calcium.

This can be dangerous or even fatal if it causes a negative reaction and is left untreated. So while the FDA and majority of medical experts feel that donating plasma is generally safe, these very rare events have happened and you should be aware of that.