A BUS supporting the town's homeless was evicted from its base after businesses complained, it has been revealed.

Michael Longsmith, founder of The Ark Project, a group which provides shelter to vulnerable residents on a converted double-decker bus, was shocked when he was ordered to leave Rivermead Leisure Centre.

The group had been parked there more for than three weeks and helped to clean up the site, which Mr Longsmith, 41, claims was a dogging hotspot.

Mr Longsmith told the Chronicle how management staff at the leisure centre in Richfield Avenue were happy for the bus to be parked there so service users had somewhere safe to go each night.

However, on Tuesday, January 23, the group was ordered to leave the car park. They have now parked outside Reading Borough Council’s offices in protest.

Mr Longsmith, a reformed criminal, said: “These are vulnerable people. They need to know they have somewhere safe to go.

“One of our members was a prostitute who used to sell herself in a crack den. What has happened is disgusting.

“The manager at Rivermead was happy for us to be there. We arranged gym passes so our residents could use the showers and they offered health and fitness classes to us.

“When we moved in to the site it was a tip. It was a dogging site, we cleared up 15 condoms.”

The founder of the project accused Reading Borough Council of ordering the lease holder at Rivermead’s car park to move the bus on.

However, GLL, the firm which runs Rivermead Leisure Centre, revealed the bus was ordered to move on after nearby businesses complained about it being parked in the car park.

A spokesman said: “The Community Action Ark Project (CAAP) bus entered the Rivermead Leisure Centre customer car park without permission from centre staff.

“Believing that its residency was only short term, the bus was allowed to remain on site for approximately two weeks.

“Following concerns raised by local businesses, the CAAP bus was asked to leave the leisure centre customer car park. Michael Longsmith of CAAP was invited to meet with Rivermead management to discuss ways in which it could support the charity in the future and has accepted the invitation.”

Mr Longsmith moved the bus to Fobney Street, Reading, where he said it will remain until the council comes up with a permanent base.

A petition demanding the bus be allowed to stay at Rivermead has fetched more than 2,000 signatures.

If they can find somewhere to build a traveller site then they can find somewhere for us,” Mr Longsmith added.

“We are not going to move. We have 15 vulnerable people on that bus, all with mental health issues.

“We are an official charity. We have all the appropriate insurance and safeguarding procedures. We also have mental health workers with us, we are not just a homeless bus.”

A council spokesman said the authority previously warned Mr Longsmith that finding a place to park the bus could be an issue.

They added: “We raised at an early stage the need for Mr Longsmith to carefully consider where he intends to locate the bus and highlighted the fact that Reading has limited public land for parking.

“There are also a range of safety and wider considerations to take into account, including the impact on local residents, businesses and others in the community.

“Identifying a suitable space in a very built up area like Reading is very challenging and options are limited but, as we have previously told Mr Longsmith, we are happy to keep talking and to explore any ideas he may have.”