Homeless man with chainsaw has been charged for trespassing multiple times, police say

Two weeks ago, FOX 7 told you about neighbors in the Williamson Creek Greenbelt who were concerned about a homeless man. They say he was cutting down trees, sometimes with a chainsaw.

Last week, neighbors said they haven't seen signs of the man. His structures are cleared out. The city says there's a second cleanup scheduled in the area of Stassney and Jones.

"It's been enough times that we know his name," Austin Police Sgt. William Beck said, referring to the times police have been called out because of Rami Zawaideh.

Neighbors say they were worried about their safety.

"If you feel like you're in immediate physical danger, call 911," Beck said. "If he's, in this case where he's swinging or carrying a machete, and he's swinging it, but he's not swinging it towards anyone or doing anything in particular that's dangerous, it's not illegal to carry a machete."

Zawaideh has been charged with trespassing five times.

The County Attorney rejected prosecuting him three times. One case is pending, and another is active. Court records show Zawaideh has a pre-trial hearing on Nov. 29. This is for a trespassing charge that was filed in September.

Police say on Nov. 10, they gave him a criminal trespassing notice. They're not aware of any complaints against him since that day.

As for the trees that were allegedly cut down, Beck says, "we have not had any anybody that's filed or followed up with any type of estimate as far as how much damage the tree-cutting has caused."

He adds, "there's only so much we can do. We can arrest them. We can file the charges. After that, that's up to the court."

The Travis County Attorney's Office sent the following statement earlier:

"We are not able to comment on matters that are pending before our courts. We are however very aware of the challenges that have long existed at the intersections of public safety, housing, homelessness, and mental illness. Our office will continue working with our neighbors and stakeholders to find long term solutions that keep our community safe while also helping individuals get the services they need."

The city has the HEAL Initiative Program, which APD officers are involved with. They do outreach and get people connected to social services and shelter.

"Services have been offered to him on numerous occasions. I don't have an answer as to why he has not chosen to accept services," Beck said.

Meanwhile, a couple miles north near Lamar and Loop 360, neighbors are concerned about huts made out of tree branches and the possibility of fires.

The city said no one was available for an interview, instead referring FOX 7 to a news conference from September

In the news conference, homeless strategy officer Dianna Grey talks about more housing units in the works and working with the fire department on outreach and teaching people about the risks of fire.

"With the increased level of cleanup over the last roughly a year, we have seen the fire load decrease in encampments as the prevalence of built structures etc., has somewhat diminished," Grey said. "We actually have distributed fire extinguishers as a pilot program this summer to help small fires from getting out of control. The most important way for us to reduce fire risk is to reduce unsheltered homelessness."