Ariel Mason's son, who attends Baltimore Community High School, was sent home on the first day of school, and stayed home for the remainder of the week because he didn't have the proper uniform. The school gave her son a shirt and a belt, but he still didn't have the $34 pants, $60 shoes and $35 sweater that was required.

Mason, 29, said she also asked the district for help to buy uniforms for her 11-year-old daughter at Harlem Park Elementary, and her children, ages 4 and 5, who attend Mary Ann Winterling Elementary school.

"Since the day school started, I've been trying to get them help," said Mason, who has been living at the Salvation Army's Booth House since August. "They gave me a price sheet and told me to go to [school district headquarters on] North Avenue. That's not help."

She said the district also denied her request for a fee waiver for a Mary Ann Winterling Elementary field trip this week.

"We're not embarrassed by our situation, but it's hard for the little ones," Mason said. "They want to look and be like everybody else, and they can't. It hurts their self-esteem more than the big children."

According to the most recent data available, 2,837 homeless students enrolled in city schools in the 2012-2013 school year. That's a 20 percent increase from a year earlier, and more than double the number of homeless students five years ago.

This past spring, the Baltimore City school system passed its first comprehensive policy for accommodating homeless students, who are defined as children who lack a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime place of residence.

School officials said the policy would bring the system in compliance with the law.

"To our credit … we have many of the services that are required through McKinney Vento already being provided at schools," said Lara Ohanian, director of enrollment, choice and transfers for the school system. "It's just a matter of making sure that connection is made at all times."

erica.green@baltsun.com

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Due to incorrect information published by the Baltimore city school system, an earlier version of this story misspelled Lara Ohanian's name. The Sun regrets the error.