Thomas Miranda at one time was the only tenant in Winnetka with a housing choice voucher, more commonly known as a Section 8 voucher.
Thomas Miranda was found dead on Saturday, March 5, at his home, 812 Elm St., Apt. 20, in the North Shore suburb of Winnetka.
A member of his church, worried that Miranda hadn’t been in touch for a while, had stopped by to knock on the door and, getting no response, called the police.
When the officers arrived, they discovered Miranda, 47, alone and dead of natural causes, natural causes being shorthand for hypertensive and arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, abetted by diabetes and obesity.
In a Chicago suburb where million-dollar homes are common and the median household income exceeds $200,000, Miranda held a rare distinction for a while: He was the only person in town with a Section 8 housing choice voucher.
With his large belly and his mustache, his T-shirt and his jeans, he was a notable presence in the village. He liked to be out and about — staying inside depressed him — and his subsidized one-bedroom apartment on Elm Street put him in the heart of Winnetka’s action, meaning close to the Metra station, a bookstore, a Peet’s, a Starbucks, restaurants and boutiques, most of which he couldn’t afford.
He was often spotted with a big coffee cup in one hand, a cigarette in the other, maybe sitting on a park bench. He liked going to the library and, in the summer, relaxing by the lake.
“I think a lot of people saw him, but nobody knew who he was,” says Brendan Saunders, who works at Open Communities, a Winnetka fair-housing agency.
Saunders helped Miranda negotiate his housing voucher and, after that, if Miranda had trouble with a neighbor or the management company, Saunders helped smooth it out.
“He always lived a bit on the edge,” says Saunders. “But he was a good guy, and he appreciated what he had.”
If some people were put off, or merely puzzled, by Miranda, there were others in town who enjoyed his company.
“For whatever struggles he went through, I always felt there was a hopeful element to Tom,” says Jeanne Rosser, a social worker for New Trier Township. “There was a sweetness. There was a desire to reach out for help and there was a willingness to make a connection.”
Miranda grew up in Chicago, but whatever family connections he maintained weren’t evident in Winnetka, and his work history was spotty, complicated by mental health struggles that began in childhood.
In 2013, as part of a story about a county ordinance designed to protect voucher holders from discrimination, he talked to Tribune reporter Greg Trotter.
“My life sometimes falls apart for health and sometime economic reasons,” he said. “It’s been a rocky road.”
At the time, he was the only voucher holder in town; in late 2014, a second moved in.
By his own account, Miranda was a recovering alcoholic. By other accounts, he had mood swings, intermittent delusions, deep trouble sleeping.
He drove an Uber car for a while, hoping to rejoin the ranks of the employed, but keeping a steady work schedule was hard for him, as it often is for those with mental illness.
He was a quiet man but friendly and open to conversation, as long as he wasn’t prodded by questions that got too personal.
“He had this wonderful smile,” says Padraig “Paddie” Brennen, supervisor of New Trier Township, who often stopped to talk with him while he sold Streetwise newspapers outside Starbucks. “His situation was not enviable in any way, shape or form, and somehow he still had this incredible pleasant demeanor.”
Like anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors, he was always happy to talk about the weather. Was it warming up or getting cold? Was there a storm coming?
“The weather,” Brennen notes, “had a huge impact on him.”
Several years ago, Miranda joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wilmette. There, he found an accepting community and help with various aspects of life.
“Tom was always friendly, always wanted to be part of the group,” says Reed Hansen, a congregation member.
The church members recognized his poor health and his needs. Sometimes he fell asleep at church, and no one could be sure whether it was due to his medications or his insomnia. Sometimes he lost his phone or changed his phone number and fell out of touch.
“He would lose track of time and commitments,” Hansen says, “so I think having members of the congregation looking out for him helped him in some way.”
The ultimate help came on the recent day a church member knocked on his Elm Street door.
Miranda will be buried in Indiana on April 1. Through Jeanne Rosser, one of Miranda’s family members declined to comment but called him “my angel.”
Miranda’s life is surely far more complicated than these few words suggest, but one thing is certain:
Having a stable home of his own in a tranquil place offered him some peace that life otherwise denied him.